Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it the same?” Luke asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Fiona’s heart sank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs Tuesday wiped the counter again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What needs doing tonight?” Ian asked.

“Tonight?” Jeanette asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We really do.” Fiona agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Steve stared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve stood up quickly.  “What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you tell him?” Darren asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No moon rocks.” Steve said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely.” Fiona said.

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not nice.” Fiona said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazardous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Fiona stared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona looked at him.  “And us!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambush

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

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

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

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

“How bad is it?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s going to be okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who did authorise them?” Tim asked.

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

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

Fiona shook her head.  “Nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have an idea.” Steve said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is Jeanette Fowler?” Ian asked.

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

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

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

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

“Is she nice?” Adele asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is anyone hurt?” Kieran asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you think it will pick up later?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi, Callum.  How’s it going?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Ending

Adele and Callum stood next to each other, catching their breath.  The shop had opened as normal, pristine thanks to the efforts of the brownies who had left a tasteful bouquet for Fiona.  The shelves had been restocked and the furniture put back in its usual positions.

It was still obvious that something had happened the night before.  The brownies were not the only ones who had left flowers.  Mrs Tuesday had started swathing cut down plastic bottles in crystal gauze left from the last night’s decorations to hold the extra bouquets.  Not all were like the neat arrangement left by brownies.  Miss Patience had taken the whole thing personally and the flowers she had sent filled the office.

Not only were there lots of flowers but there were also lots of people popping in for a small pack of gossip.  The shop was full of knots of people sharing the news with as many details as they could get and the café was doing a brisk trade.

Adele looked over at Freydis climbing a ladder to put up another ‘Get Well’ card on the wall behind the coffee machine.  “She really shouldn’t be doing that with a bad leg.”

“It’s not just her leg.” Callum shook his head.  “I can smell how badly she got scraped but it’s hidden by her glamour. But it seems a shame to stop her.  She’s happy.”

“She’s happy that Fiona is okay.” Adele said.  “Was it really that close?”

Callum nodded.  “If Steve hadn’t been able to work out where she was, she would probably not have survived.  As it is, she’s safe, Rey’s dead and Lord Ragnar and his court got a lot of tension out of their system.”

Adele was unconvinced.  “I suppose things will settle down.  We’ll need someone else for the café now Louise has gone.  Do you know how she is?”

“Lord Ragnar was talking about paying her bail money, but I don’t know if she’ll accept it.” Callum said quietly.  Then he swore.

Mr and Mrs Appuck came in, tenderly escorted by their son Geraint.  Mrs Appuck wasted no time bustling over to where Mrs Tuesday was stiffly buttering some toast.  “Jane, we came as soon as we heard, well we had to tell Geraint, didn’t we Cecil, but he was happy to bring us.”

“Geraint was happy to bring us, wasn’t he, Mildred.” Mr Appuck helped Mrs Appuck off with her coat.  She was wearing a flowered pinny underneath.  “And Geraint did take a liking to Fiona.  She’s a good girl with a good heart and I’m glad she’s alright.  We both are, aren’t we, Mildred?”

“We really are.” Mrs Appuck nodded firmly.  “She’s a good girl with a good heart.  Mind you, we weren’t surprised to hear about the wedding.  You can tell she’s a gentle soul.  I said that, didn’t I, Cecil?  Sometimes people don’t know when to give a little space.” She shot a sharp look at Kadogan who was lurking nervously near the candles.  “Now, Jane, get sat in a chair and just point us in the right direction.  We can take it from here.”

Geraint nodded politely to Kadogan and came over to Adele and Callum.  “I hope you don’t mind.  Mum and Dad can’t keep going for a full week nowadays, but it means a lot for them to be useful.”

“Any friend of Mrs Tuesday is a friend of ours.” Adele said warmly.  She hadn’t been warned about Geraint and his brothers.  “And I’m glad someone can make her take a break.”

Callum nodded warily.  “Mrs Tuesday hurt her back intercepting a phone that was thrown past her.  It’s a strange way to get an injury, but it kept her…” He hesitated.  “I would worry if she was on the front line.”

Geraint nodded.  “I know, you’ve got to be tactful, and I’m sure I’ll be the same when I’m their age, but they can’t keep up like they used to.”  He looked across to the café area.  “How badly is Freydis injured?”

“She was in the middle of a serious situation, I believe.” Callum followed his gaze.  Freydis was showing no sign of injury but was stroking a hand over the top of the coffee machine as she frothed some milk.  “Fiona was being held under York Railway Station.  So Steve Adderson and a few of us who weren’t affected by iron went to get Fiona.  Lord Ragnar and the rest of his court decided to attack the rebels who had barricaded a corner of his realm.  Mrs Tuesday stayed here with Adele.”

“And Fiona got bitten?” Geraint looked calm but Adele could tell there was an undercurrent of anger.

“She’s been kept overnight in hospital, but she should be fine.” Adele said.  “We’re hoping she’ll call in before she goes home.  Steve’s keeping an eye on her.”

“And the vampire?” Geraint asked with an edge.

“Destroyed.” Callum shuddered.  “I always knew about Steve’s reputation, but I’ve never seen anything like it.  He unravelled Rey out of being, he just…” Callum groped again for words.  “It’s like he found a loose end of Rey and pulled until there was nothing but a pile of thread.  I’ve never seen anything like it,” he repeated.

“Good.” Geraint said with a certain satisfaction.  “I’ll just go and get the chocolates from the car.” He looked between Adele and Callum.  “People always bring flowers so I thought I’d do something different and pick up a little box of chocolates for Fiona.  Mum and Dad wanted to do the right thing, and she’s a good kid.” He disappeared back to the car park.

The morning passed uneventfully.  Geraint’s ‘little box of chocolates’, which turned out to be the size of a small suitcase, was joined by baskets of fruit, more chocolates and plenty of home made goodies.  Kadogan was overwhelmed.

“I did not realise that Fiona Greene was so well thought of,” he said as he brought a flourishing potted geranium into the back room.”

“Of course she is.” Mrs Tuesday said as she picked up a pack of napkins.  “She’s polite, she’s pleasant, she’s friendly, she does her best and even though she’s only known about non-normals for the last six months, she’s never held it against us.”

“She is very honest in her heart.” Freydis added as she came in for another pack of coffee.  “Mrs Tuesday, I am concerned for your back.  Let me take it.”

“It’s okay.” Mrs Tuesday worked her back.  “I need to keep moving gently and this stuff is nice and light.” She cast a shrewd glance over Freydis.  “You’re obviously not feeling your injuries.”

“I think I needed that fight.” Freydis said.  “It was as good as a Spring tonic.”

“Indeed, I also feel much better.” Kadogan agreed.

“Yoohoo!” Mrs Appuck called from the front.  “We’ve got visitors.”

It was Lord Ragnar.  He was walking with a cane but looking smug.  He had dealt with a threat to his rule and had had a very good fight.  He limped over to Kadogan and nodded politely as Ian rushed to put a chair next to him.  He blinked a little seeing Geraint Appuck carrying a tray of bottled water in for his father, ‘just to feel useful’ but settled back with a satisfied sigh.

“Kadogan, your efforts and those of your associates have been most exemplary.  You are a credit to my court.”

Kadogan nodded.  “I believe our small shop has made an impact on the wellbeing of your court and I am proud.”

“Indeed you should be.” Lord Ragnar took a cup of coffee from Ian with a regal nod of thanks.  “And I am very glad that Fiona Greene is without serious injury.  It has been a relief to many of us.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan said, looking around the shop which had vases of flowers on every spare surface.  “She is very dear to us at the White Hart.”

Lord Ragnar beckoned Kadogan closer.  “I was in conversation with Lord Lothar last night who had been speaking to Lord Harold and he mentioned big cat sightings.  The thought intrigues me.  There have been many rumours and I think that there are many parts local to Yorkshire that lack the excitement and mystery that a rumoured magical or unusual creature would bring.”  He sighed.  “I used to enjoy sending glamours and throws of black dogs to remote places.  Nobody is interested in them anymore.  All they want are aliens.”

“I suppose we could do aliens.” Kadogan said.  “I’m sure appropriate pictures could be lucrative.”

“But I don’t know anything about aliens.” Lord Ragnar said plaintively.

“I’m sure the White Hart can find someone to do research.  We may even be able to get a network of sightings with other Princes.  We could try talking about ley lines again.” Kadogan looked thoughtful.  “I am getting very involved in commerce.  When this store opened, barely six months ago, I knew little apart from candles.  Now I know about a great deal of other things and it is curiously satisfying.”

Kieran beckoned Ian and Callum towards him.  Adele watched with some concern.  Ian and Callum were painfully respectful in front of the York werewolf pack leader.  Kieran bent his head towards them for a low voiced conversation which Adele couldn’t even watch as the till was so busy.

“It’s nice to see Mildred and Cecil.” An older lady was buying some bay leaves as an excuse to call in.  “They don’t get out much, these days.  And I’ll have this dried mint as well.  Your herbs and spices are a lot fresher than the supermarket.  It’s made quite a difference in my shepherd’s pie and my husband, Mr Anderson, said he thought I should always get them.”

“We’re very keen on quality here.” Adele said, sliding the packets of herbs into a paper bag.

“I said that they are tuppence cheaper in the supermarket, but Mr Anderson said that it was tuppence well spent if it makes such a difference to the shepherd’s pie.”

“I completely agree.” Adele nodded.  “Our Daryl, my cousin, he works as a cook, well, he’s a chef really but he doesn’t put on airs, he says that the ingredients make the meal and a cook can only do so much with bad materials.”

“That’s what I said.” Mrs Anderson handed over the exact money.  “You’d better check that.  I find myself thinking in shillings sometimes.  Yes, I said that it’s better to have good sausages than bad steak.  You should do more cooking spices.”

“The money is spot on.” Adele said, handing Mrs Anderson her receipt.  “And I’ll let the boss know about the cooking spices.  But they are very strict on quality, you know, so it depends whether they can get the right stuff at the right price.”

“That poor girl.” Mrs Anderson shook her head as she slipped the herbs into her mesh bag.  “I’m glad she’s okay.  She’s always got a kind word to an old boggart, even if she’s busy.  Right, I’d better say ‘hello’ to young Geraint.  He’s a good lad deep down, and always good to his mum and dad.”

Callum was fizzing with excitement when he got back to the till.  “Mr Latimer, he said we were okay, that we’d done well last night.”

“Well, you did.” Adele thought that if Callum had been in wolf form his tail would have been wagging so fast it would have been a blur.

“He said that while we’re not part of his pack, he’s not ruling it out.  He said,” Callum took a deep breath.  “He said that we could be a sub pack, me and Ian.  We obviously defer to him, but we have our own place.  He said we could treat the White Hart like a pack, and if we kept our fur flat we could maybe see about being part of his pack in time.”

“That’s great.” Adele could almost see the happiness spilling out of Callum.  She had no idea what was going on, but it obviously meant a lot to him and that was great.  She looked over to where Ian was telling Mrs Tuesday as he bounced around straightening the café, too excited to stay still.

“Here they are!” Kadogan called out as he watched a battered Range Rover pull up and Darren help Fiona out of the car.  Steve hurried around to give her his arm.  Fiona looked pale and had a dressing on her neck, but otherwise she looked fine.  She swayed backwards a little when she saw the crowd waiting for her but she clung on to Steve’s arm and walked into the hubbub.

“It is so good to see her safe.” Freydis said to Mrs Tuesday.  “I know she would normally prefer tea, but I think it will be good to keep her strength up with a hot chocolate.”

“I think you’re right.” Mrs Tuesday looked Fiona over.  “She’s going to be struggling for a bit after those potions, though you did a good job with the antidote.”

“Thank you.” Freydis expertly frothed the milk, caressing the handle as she created the exact amount of foam needed.  “I admire her courage.”

“I agree, Freydis.” Lord Ragnar had heard this from the other side of the room and he turned and bowed.  “I am deeply in your debt.  You were swept up in matters that did not concern you and you faced great trials with fortitude and courage.  You are a welcome guest to my court and a good friend, Fiona Greene.”

“It’s Fiona Adderson.” Steve said quietly.  Every head snapped around.

“It’s true.” Darren looked smug.  “I may not have many friends at the Archbishop’s Palace, but I have people that will do a lot to get me out of their office if I stand in front of their desk.  I picked up a special license and married them in the hospital chapel without any fuss.”

There was a pause, then a babble as everyone rushed forward to hug Fiona, shake Steve’s hand and admire the matching rings that Steve had bought only a month before.

“I feel so happy for her.” Freydis sighed.  “I just hope they stay happy and blessed.”

“We need wine!” Kadogan said suddenly.  “Everyone must have a beverage of choice.  Ian, please get out the wine from last night.  Mrs Tuesday, please bring out what snacks are possible.  Freydis, we need drinks with spray cream.  We must celebrate.”

“Indeed, we must celebrate!” Lord Ragnar jumped to his feet and winced a little.  “We must have cakes, and drink and spray cream with glitter.  And we can have a proper reception at the Autumn Equinox.  I think that would be the best time.”

“What?” Fiona said, looking at Lord Ragnar.

“I agree.” Kadogan nodded.  “I think that if we have a joint reception and harvest celebration on the Autumn Equinox we could have an appropriate feast.”

“What?” Fiona repeated.

“Absolutely.” Lord Ragnar took a glass of wine from the tray Callum was already carrying round.  “Lughnasadh is too soon, and it would be wrong to add any celebration of a wedding near Samhain or the Winter Solstice.”

“We could have the reception separate from a festival.” Freydis paused between expertly swirling spray cream onto mugs of hot chocolate.  “I think the beginning of September is a good time.  You still have a good selection of flowers but it isn’t as hot as August for those in heavy dresses.”

“What?” Fiona looked at Steve who looked blankly back.

“Indeed, although we can make sure that favourable weather occurs.” Lord Ragnar nodded.  “I quite like connecting the feast of the Autumn Equinox with the reception.  It would make the reception quite a grand thing.”

“Excuse me.” Fiona waved a hand.

“But we risk overshadowing Fiona’s celebration with the celebration of the festival.” Kadogan pointed out.

Excuse me!

“If it’s linked to the festival then no-one can forget their anniversary.” Freydis said, setting down the hot chocolates and adding a sprinkle of edible pink glitter.

Steve put a hand on Fiona’s arm.  “I think we’re just going to have to go with this,” he said.  “As long as we don’t have to have Armani as a page boy.”

Fiona smiled up at him and for a few brief moments the rest of the room faded into unimportant background noise.  “But at least we got our happy ending.”

 

The Hunt is On

Through the sudden lull in the party, Steve’s voice rang far too loud.  “Where’s Fiona?”

A dozen heads turned.  Lord Ragnar strode into the middle of the room.  “Who last saw Fiona?”

“Where are you going?” Mrs Tuesday snapped at Louise who was diving for the door.

“I need the bathroom.” Louise looked pink.

“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday held out her hand.

“What?” Louise kept backing to the door.

“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday stepped calmly towards her.

“What are you on about?” Louise knocked into the counter as she edged backwards.

“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday took another step towards her.

Louise threw the phone hard at the nearest bookcase and turned and ran towards the door.  With surprising agility Mrs Tuesday grabbed the phone out of the air as Callum grabbed Louise around the waist.  Mrs Tuesday winced.  “I’m too old for this.” She rubbed her back and tossed the phone to Steve.  “And I’m too old to work these things.”

Lord Ragnar stood in front of the struggling Louise.  “You were betraying us.”

“I didn’t want to be elfen!” Louise looked for a moment at Ian and then back at her ancestor.  “I didn’t want to be non normal.  I wanted to be me.  And if you won’t fix it, Rey will.”

Freydis looked at Louise in amazement.  “You actually believed he could do that?  He’s barely competent with the most basic magic.  Even Steve Adderson, who is the most capable known sorcerer, could not take your heritage away.” She watched with indifference as the colour drained from Louise’ face then turned to Lord Ragnar.  “Rey has been trying to entice Fiona to his court by sending her former lover, that Dean person, to speak with her.  I believe he thought she would be good bait to trap you.  According to Fiona, Rey has been feeding from Dean regularly.” Freydis looked around the shop.  All eyes were on her, but she didn’t flinch.  “I shall be as brief as I may.  Dean was trying to give Fiona love potions.  I gave her the antidote each time but she found it draining.  Dean has been smuggling Dragon’s Blood in for Rey, which I never knew and would never condone, and I believe that Rey’s been assembling quite an army.”

“Why did you not tell me this?” Lord Ragnar towered over Freydis, his eyes flashing and his glamour slipping to show hints of an unearthly creature underneath.

“You told me that if I tried to speak to you again you would rip my head off and stuff an injunction between my lifeless lips.” Freydis said calmly.  “I thought at the time how much I admired your eloquence.  And, to be honest, Fiona was hoping that she would get some more information from Dean.”

“You put Fiona in danger.” Steve dumped the phone into Ian’s hand and pushed his way over to Freydis.  “You put her life at risk for your games.”

“It was an idea she had, I wish I could take the credit.” Freydis looked around.  “But it appears that she has been taken.”

“It was not supposed to be like this.  We were setting a trap, not Rey.  He was supposed to ambush here or on the way back to the court.” Lord Ragnar paced up and down as Kieran posted discreet look outs.  “It’s less protected, we would be in the open, we would apparently not expect it….”

“Looks like you got played.” Mrs Tuesday sank into a chair, wincing.  “And Fiona is the bait to get you into a trap.”  She looked worried.  “I hope she’s okay, wherever she is.”

Steve whirled around and strode over to Louise.  “Where is she?”

Louise shook her head.  “I don’t know.”  Her eyes were drawn to Steve’s clenching fists.  “I really don’t know.  Rey didn’t tell me.  He just said that he would take the bait to somewhere safe from elfen.”

“I don’t believe you.” Steve drew back a hand and a wave of magical energy ran over the room as he drew in power.

Dave carefully caught his arm.  “Hang on.” He eased Steve away from Louise.  “Rey played her as much as he played us.  She doesn’t know anything.” He looked around.  “Perhaps we can put her in a bedroom somewhere.”

Lord Ragnar waved an imperious hand at Louise.  “Sleep.” Louise slumped in Callum’s arms.

“I’ll take her upstairs.” Callum said, lifting her without effort.

“I’ll come up and keep an eye on her.” Mrs Tuesday pushed herself up.  “My back’s gone.” She looked around the room.  “I’m sure I can rely on you to bring Fiona back nice and safe without me tagging along.” Her hard stare added an emphatic ‘or else’.

“Armani, bring me the map of York from the office.” Steve was breathing deeply.  He snapped around at Freydis.  “What do you mean, putting Fiona in danger?”

“I did not think anything like this would happen.” Freydis looked genuinely worried.  “Fiona has become dear to me.” Her blue eyes filled with uncharacteristic tears.  “She is so in love with you.  It was breaking her heart and the traces that the love potion left behind were tearing her to pieces.  She was so brave.”

“She really loves me?” Steve paused for a moment.

“Of course you two love each other.  It’s been obvious to everyone around.” Kadogan said.  “But this isn’t finding Fiona Greene.”

Armani flapped into the room carrying the rolled up map.  Steve took it from him with a muttered thanks and spread it over the café counter, pushing the stacked plates casually to one side.  He weighted the corners down with espresso cups and patted his pockets.

“What are you doing?” Lord Ragnar looked at the map and back to Steve.  “We can’t waste any time.  We do not know whether Fiona is safe or not?”

Steve reached into the display of elfshot and pulled out one of the smaller arrowheads.  He wrenched the artfully tied jute twine from Freydis’ coloured grass displays and tied it quickly onto the tang of the arrowhead.  He held it between his hands, muttering, and all the elfen took a collective step back.  “She’s wearing my ring.  I wouldn’t let her leave without it.  And I was the one who enchanted it.  There’s a lot in that ring, and one of the things is a beacon.  I should be able to find her by dowsing.”

Darren looked warily at the map and the impromptu pendulum Steve was holding steadily.  “I’ve called Tim from the police.  He wants Rey for the murder of that poor woman that was found a few weeks ago and the other kidnappings. He’ll be another set of eyes.”

“There’s nothing on the phone.” Ian threw it next to the till.  “No previous calls, no history, no records, and only one number saved on it, with no name.  It’s a burner.”

Steve wasn’t paying attention to Ian.  He slowly moved the pendulum over the map, keeping his hand and his breathing as steady as he could, taking his time.  The pendulum shifted a little as it passed over the Minster, but that was just static, and there was a hint of movement over the entrance to Lord Ragnar’s realm and the location of the normal trap that Rey had set.  Armani sat hunched next to the map, his eyes fixed on the pendulum.  “Don’t worry, boss.  We’ll find her.”

“Is there any hint or is she shielded from magic?” Lord Ragnar shot an anxious look at Kadogan who was pale from white hot fury.

“She will not be shielded from my magic.” Steve pushed down on his emotions.  He couldn’t afford to lose his cool now.  “Got it.”  The pendulum slowly swung in circles over the map, tighter and tighter, and very definite.  Steve swore.

“What is it?” Kadogan leaned over Steve’s shoulder and then spun around, kicking a chair across the room with a crash.  “Damn them all to the darkest hell.”

“York Railway Station.” Steve dropped the pendulum.  “All that lovely iron.”  He turned to Armani.  “Go to her.  Keep hidden if you can, but go to her.”

“Sure thing, boss.” Armani flew with unusual speed into an air vent.

“There is too much iron for me to get close.” Lord Ragnar started pacing.

“Not to mention all the CCTV around there.” Kieran reminded him.  “And if she’s in the station itself then there’s plenty of CCTV covering the platforms and waiting rooms.  Every inch would be on camera.”

“She’s inside the station itself.” Steve said grimly.

“I’ll make a call.” Ian said.  “Nick can sort out the CCTV.  He can have a look around for us before he cuts them off.”

“I will owe him many favours for that.” Kadogan said through stiff lips.

“There are large storm drains that go from beneath the station to the river.” Miss Patience smoothed down the elegant but practical trouser suit she was wearing.  “I can lead you in there without being seen.”

“Does Rey know about them?” Lord Ragnar asked.

Miss Patience shook her head.  “He is a relatively young vampire and I never trusted him with all my secrets.  He moved to York after the railways were built.”

Dave looked over to where Steve was hunched over the map, his knuckles white as he clenched the edge of the counter.  Lord Ragnar was standing in the centre of a room, frustrated and helpless at the concentration of iron facing him.  “Listen up, I’ve got a plan.  Lord Ragnar, you can’t get to the station.”

Lord Ragnar shook his head.  “A perfect place to hide Fiona.”

“Rey has no reason to think you’ll look there.  He’s every reason to think you’ll forget all about it.  The last time you cornered him it was in your domain.  Is there a corner of your realm that appears shut off or you can’t see properly?”

Lord Ragnar shut his eyes and spread his arms a little from his sides.  Mist curled up from the floor.  “Damn his eyes, yes.”

“That’s where he’ll expect you to go.  And that’s where his toughest fighters and his scariest traps will be.  Going there will achieve nothing.”

“I will be able to hit someone.” Kadogan said.  “That will afford me a great deal of relief.”

“Here’s the plan.” Dave looked around and felt the weight of everyone’s gaze settle on his shoulders.  “Lord Ragnar, you and Freydis fake an argument near the front window…”

“We do not need to fake arguments.” Freydis sniffed.  “We can manage genuine arguments without effort.”

“The point is, all eyes must be kept on Lord Ragnar.  So you two have a big argument, you send for people to come here, you send people to search nearby, you have lots and lots of movement.  Keep them watching that.” Dave turned to Steve.  “They can’t see anything by magic, can they.”

“No-one sees anything that Steve Adderson wishes hidden.” Lord Ragnar took a breath.  “How will that help Fiona?”

“Because while everyone is watching you, they hopefully won’t see me, Ian, Callum, Steve, maybe a few others led by Miss Patience slip out the back and head for the station.”

There was a pause.  “That would work.” Lord Ragnar grudgingly agreed.

“You can’t get near to the station.  None of the elfen could.” Dave said.  “And we need to rescue Fiona.”

“But we call a hunt on them once Fiona is safe.” Lord Ragnar said.  There were satisfied nods from the elfen.

“Great,” Dave looked around the room.  “Get the argument started.”

Fiona drifted slowly out of a dark dream.  She shivered and as she tried to move to a more comfortable position she found she couldn’t.  She forced open her eyes and felt sick.  She was looking straight at Reynauld Baxter.

“I did consider keeping you asleep, but I thought it would be more fun to see you awake.” Rey stood a little way back.  “Do you like my place?  It’s full of iron.  Kadogan can’t even get here, let alone save you.  Of course, he’ll wear himself out trying to find you and I’ll be able to pick him off when I’m ready.”

Fiona looked around.  She was sitting in an incongruously modern IKEA chair, with her hands and arms tied to the wooden armrests.  The rest of the room looked like the Victorian parlour where Rey had told her he was going to imprison her and she had first met Callum.  Dean was slumped and shivering in the corner of a sofa.  Fiona’s heart sank.  He wouldn’t be a threat but he couldn’t be any help.  The ragged wounds on his neck were large and he was far too pale.  She wondered how much blood Rey had drained.

“I’ve been wondering about you.” Rey took a handful of incense and threw it on the fire.  There was a hiss and smoke coiled up and slid out of the fire, drifting lazily towards Fiona. “You inspire loyalty from Kadogan, which is remarkable.”

“I saved his life.” Fiona watched the loops of smoke as they eased their way towards her.  “He was stuck watching Christmas lights in the middle of the road.  He felt grateful.”

“But now he likes you.” Rey pushed himself away from the mantelpiece and staggered a little as he walked towards Fiona.  “It is rare that the elfen like anyone but themselves.”

“You’re high.” Fiona didn’t realise she had said the words out loud until she heard Rey laugh.

“I’m so high I could kiss the flag on the moon.” He bowed unsteadily towards her.  “I’m going to be even higher after I’ve tasted you.”

“No!” Dean tried to stand, but slumped back, clutching at the chair.  “You said you wouldn’t hurt her.  You said she was just to get Lord Ragnar here.”

“I lied.” Rey slowly stroked over Fiona’s face and down to her neck.  “And I would be quiet if I were you.  You were stopped and searched at the airport the last time you came back.  You will be watched, now, and I could find my incense confiscated or a prince tipped off.  You are of no further use.” He bent low over Fiona and whispered in her ear.  “But when I am a little less bloated and you have spent some time in this delightful fragrance, I’ll have a use for you.”

“They’ll come for me.” Fiona felt like a great weight was pressing on her chest.

“They don’t even know where you are.” Rey buried his face in Fiona’s hair and breathed in the scent of her shampoo.  His fangs were showing as he pulled himself a little away.  “I have hidden a force of those who loathe Lord Ragnar in a shrouded corner of his domain.  He’ll be heading there now.  Even if he isn’t destroyed tonight, he will be soon.” Rey gave an ecstatic shudder and held his hand loosely over Fiona’s throat.  “The thought of that has been keeping me warm at night.  Thinking about how I will take his throne, wondering how sweet you will taste and making that bitch Freydis beg.”

Lord Ragnar and Freydis were standing in the car park, facing each other at optimum drama distance.  Mrs Tuesday limped down the stairs and stood beside Adele.  “I’m not missing this.  It should be hilarious.  Could you fetch us some mullein, please?  I don’t normally indulge at times like this but my back is really acting up.”

Adele ran past the staring elfen and grabbed some mullein teabags.  She passed them to Mrs Tuesday.  “We used to have neighbours like this when we lived in Lime Court.  They really enjoyed the drama and we looked on it as entertainment.  My gran used to get a deckchair out.”

“It doesn’t get old for some people.  Thank you.” Mrs Tuesday sank gratefully onto the chair Adele had put behind her.

“It didn’t end well for them, though.” Adele shifted her angle slightly for a better view.  “He had a breakdown and she ran off with the man at the Co-op.  It turned out he’d been giving her more than two pence off a loaf of bread, if you know what I mean.”

“Why, Freydis, just why?” Lord Ragnar opened the argument.  “One minute you’re a pink-obsessed air head and now look at you!  You can even work the coffee machine.”

“It’s your fault.” Freydis spat back.  “It’s what you wanted.  The first time I met you, you had that Flavia on your arm, and don’t tell me she had more intelligence than a carp.”

“That was fifteen hundred years ago, and we weren’t even married.” Lord Ragnar snapped, stung by the unfairness of the attack.

“It’s seventeen hundred and thirteen years.  She used to giggle when she didn’t understand what you said and that was most of the time.  And she wore that washed out red thing all the time as if it made her look good.”

“She was pleasant company at the time.” Lord Ragnar tried to get back some momentum.  “But dull and she died eventually.  But what about that Rorik man you wore on your arm at any opportunity?  He was no scholar.”

“He thought I was attractive, which was more than I got from you.” Freydis stamped her foot.  “He created poetry for me.”

“It was awful poetry.” Lord Ragnar started pacing.  “And you started doing that awful flick of your hair.”

“You mean like that Elswyth that you seduced?  I hope you didn’t think you were alone in enjoying her favours.”

“I was not hanging around like some lovesick shepherd waiting for you.” Lord Ragnar was pacing quicker.

“You weren’t waiting for me at all.” Freydis snapped.  “You only married me because my father insisted.”

“You father only agreed to help me because he knew I loved you!” Lord Ragnar snapped.

“So you told my father that you loved me, but didn’t think to say anything to me?  I’ve spent all these centuries trying to be Flavia and now you say something.  And you have redecorated your domain badly.” Freydis’ glamour was slipping and her hair was waving in the still air.

“How was I supposed to say anything serious to you when you were acting like a Flavia?  And at least we don’t have problems with a glitterball anymore.”  Lord Ragnar roared.

“And how was I supposed to say anything serious to you when you were ignoring me?” Freydis yelled back.

There was a charged pause.  Lord Ragnar swung around to the watching elfen.  “We attack them in the domain!”  As one the elfen and werewolves strode off towards Stonegate, leaving the White Hart empty apart from Adele and Mrs Tuesday.

“Well, that took longer than I thought.” Mrs Tuesday pushed herself to her feet.  “Why don’t you run upstairs and check on Louise.  She’ll probably be fine and sleep until Lord Ragnar wakes her, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.  I’ll put the kettle on.  And we had better make a start clearing up any mess.  The brownies will be here in a few hours.”

Fiona shivered.  Her neck hurt and she felt a coldness that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.  Dean had been right.  When Rey had fed on her the sensation had been amazing.  No matter how good it had been, however, she didn’t want to feel it again.

She shifted a little in her chair.  She was still tied there and she was feeling the stiffness.  Dean was slumped on the floor, his whole body limp and worryingly lifeless.  Fiona tried to be optimistic.  Perhaps he was just passed out, like Rey who was sprawled across a sofa in the corner.  She looked again at Dean and then looked away quickly.  Was she going to end up as a bundle on the floor with massive wounds on the neck and the choking smell of incense in the air?

She had worked out where she was.  She could hear the rumble of trains.  It felt like she was somewhere near the centre of the station.  A long goods train was passing and it sounded very close.  Fiona could imagine how it would be.  Rey would have found a corner or a gap in the brickwork and built in a magic realm.  Would Kadogan be able to get here?  She knew he was old enough to have trouble with iron, and the station was filled with it.  The endless iron rails for the trains, the engines and carriages, the metal containers on the sidings, the wires humming with electricity and even the exposed iron girders in the roof would all bar Kadogan.  Fiona shifted again.  That’s if Kadogan could guess where she was.  She wished she could see Steve.

Rey stirred, turning over with his face away from Fiona.  He seemed to be sinking into a deeper stupor.  Fiona froze.  Beyond him, in the shadows, two eyes blinked.  As she looked harder she could make out the unlovely countenance of Armani.  She had never been so glad to see him.  He was edging around the room but as he realised that Fiona had seen him he glanced quickly at Rey before flapping silently over.

“Hold on, miss,” the imp whispered as he landed on her shoulder.  “I’ll get you out.  The boss is on his way.”  His sharp claws made short work of the cord around Fiona’s arms and she stood up slowly and stiffly.  “Are you okay to move, miss?” Armani whispered.

Fiona nodded and hoped that she was.  She found herself hobbling as quietly as she could towards the mahogany panelled door.  Armani was ahead of her, pulling it open carefully and watching the room as she limped out before shutting the door silently.

Fiona looked around.  It was like the idea of a corridor.  There were walls and a floor, and the ceiling was in there somewhere, but it was all a dull grey, unformed and lit with a pale glow that seemed to leak from the walls.  Rey hadn’t bothered shaping this, Fiona realised.  She looked at Armani.  “Thank you for rescuing me.  Which way?”

The imp looked up and down the corridor.  “I’ve had a bit of a scout around, miss, and the boss is coming up the drains to the entrance that way.” He waved towards the right.  “If we go left then we come out onto the station platform, but there’s not many people about at this time of night and you haven’t got a ticket.”

Fiona almost laughed out loud and the worry the imp had about her lack of ticket.  “Let’s head towards Steve.” Despite herself, she couldn’t help asking.  “He is coming, isn’t he?”

“Course he is, miss.” Armani shot her an irritated look.  “Follow me.”

Fiona found herself walking a lot easier as she followed Armani quietly flying up the corridor.  Of course Steve would come, he was that sort of person.  Ian would help out as well, of course, and Callum, even if Kadogan couldn’t get here.  They were good men and she was lucky to know them.  A tear leaked down her face.  She had almost certainly blown it with Steve.  She couldn’t blame him.  But she couldn’t have handled anything more to do with the wedding, even without all the effects of the love potion running through her, and he’d probably be polite about it, but she really wished they had met before she had ever run into Kadogan.  She brushed another tear away.

“Don’t worry miss, not long to go and then the boss will look after you.” The imp gave an encouraging smile, “You’ll feel better in no time.  Just keep going, miss, that’s it.”

Fiona was far too aware of the noise she was making, the slight hiss of her jeans as she moved, the gentle taps of her feet on the featureless floor.  Even her breathing seemed to be echoing.  Armani was almost silent, moving owl-like through the air past the blank doors.  She glanced behind her.  It seemed to have taken forever, and even though the corridor was long, it seemed to be taking an irrationally long time to get to the end.  Her neck was throbbing.  She put her hand up to her throat and felt two gashes, damp and ragged.  Her stomach turned.

“Don’t touch ‘em, miss.” Armani said without glancing around.  “And don’t worry, he didn’t take too much.  I daresay you’ll be feeling it but it could have been worse.  We just need to get around that corner and…”

‘This is a nightmare,’ thought Fiona.  Suddenly the flat, undetailed walls bent and stretched, the floor slid away from her and the corridor was writhing around her like a bad special effect.  She looked back over her shoulder and icy fear fell through her.  Rey was following them up the corridor and the walls and floor were bending to his will.  She tried to scream but couldn’t make the sounds.

“Keep moving, miss!” Armani was flapping desperately against the air as he struggled to get away.  “Don’t give up.”

“Feisty little thing, aren’t you?” Rey snarled as he gained on them.  “Do you have any idea how much blood I’ve had today?  Blood is power and you are mine!  I was right, you are soooo sweet.  Struggle all you like.  It makes your surrender so much sweeter.”

Fiona struggled forward, clawing at the walls as she tried to force her way forward.  The corner that had been only a few metres away was now stretching away from her and the floor was buckling under her feet.

“Do you think I will treat you like Dean?  I don’t think so.  You are far more decorative and I am sure you can hold a decent conversation.  I look forward to our civilised discussions.” Rey was nearly on them, chuckling as Fiona swore at him.

“Stay away from her!” Steve rounded the corner and suddenly the floor and walls snapped into flat regularity and Fiona rushed forward to fall into Steve’s arms.  Steve wrapped his left arm tightly around her as she held on to him, leaning against his chest.  She was safe.  Steve took a second to savour the feeling, dropping a light kiss on top of her hair before raising his right hand towards Rey.

Rey held his hands up and started backing away.  “I don’t think you can touch me, blood bag.” He glanced quickly over his shoulder.  “It takes more than a rag tag of shopkeepers.  Perhaps Ragnar could, if he can catch me…”

“I don’t think so.” Steve gestured, as if gathering in invisible strings and wrapping them around his right hand.  Rey jerked and froze, unable to move.

“I have too many friends for you to risk this.” Rey snarled, struggling against the unseen cords.

“I said, I don’t think so.” Steve snapped his hand sharply and Rey jerked again, rising in the air.  “You should never have touched Fiona.”

“Sweet tasting little thing,” Rey snarled defiantly, “I should have taken her sooner.”

“Enough!” All of Steve’s pain and bewilderment since the wedding was cancelled, all his fear for Fiona’s safety and fury at the injuries on her neck were channelled and powered as his hand now seemed to pick at strings in the air.  Ian and Callum clasped their hands over their ears and sank to the ground and Dave fell against the wall.  Fiona, protected in the circle of Steve’s arm, felt a rumble in the atmosphere, like a silent waterfall, as Steve pulled power from the air and spun it around Rey.

Rey started screaming.  Steve pulled and tugged at the air as strands of colour seemed to be pulled from the vampire.  Fiona glanced up briefly.  Steve’s glare was inhuman as he pulled threads from Rey.  At first it looked like Steve was unravelling the fabric of Rey’s clothes but as Steve pushed Fiona’s head back against his chest she had a glimpse of dark red threads and realised that Steve was unravelling Rey himself, fibre by fibre.  The scream echoed around the unfinished corridor for a long time.  Then Steve dropped his hand and let out a sigh.  Ian and Callum pushed themselves to their feet.

“We need to get out of here now.” Ian snapped.  “This place isn’t stable, it’s going to collapse.  Callum, carry Fiona.”

Steve wanted to protest and felt a cold space as Callum grabbed Fiona and slung her unceremoniously over his shoulder, but he felt too light and empty after such a rush of power.  He could feel the magic that had held the corridors fading and he didn’t have any strength to hold it open.  Instead he followed the group racing for the exit.  It sounded like distant, delicate bells, tinkling softly as the edges of reality closed behind them as they ran down the darkening corridor and out through the storm drain and into the York dawn.

Getting Ready

Fiona’s head was banging as she sipped a camomile tea.  She couldn’t face anything stronger.  She leant back in her chair and let the business meeting wash over her and Kadogan be his own version of business like.

“I have spoken with many people.” Kadogan looked smug.  “And we have a pool of people to interview for casual work over the summer and potentially part time afterwards.  Adele has a multitudinous family and Mrs Tuesday knows some boggart kits that would like to earn some pocket money at weekends.”

“As long as Mrs Tuesday is supervising them.” Steve was watching Armani try and blow smoke rings with his vape pen.

Kadogan ignored him.  “And Kieran Latimer has said some of the werewolf youngsters would benefit from work experience here, as long as Ian and Callum are okay with that.”

Callum checked with Ian, who nodded.  “We’ll keep an eye out for them, and we won’t lead them into bad ways.”

“My research into specialised coffees goes well.” Freydis said.  “It could be a source of income for specialised coffee evenings.  Also, I believe a knitting group are looking for a new meeting place.  We could stay open later.”

“It’s a good thing that we’re getting all the new staff.” Louise said, looking at Freydis.  “And how do you feel about someone else looking after the coffee machine on your days off?”

“I don’t need days off.” Freydis said loftily.  “I am nourished by the Machine.”

Kadogan jumped in quickly.  “The devotion of our staff has been a great help.  The store rooms seem to be in a constant state of replenishment.”

“It’s because we are running up to the solstice.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Lots of people need their stuff and we’re a good place to go for one order.”

“Speaking of which, we need to wrap this up quickly.” Steve said.  “I’ve got a lot of deliveries over the next few days.”

“You should see the latest batch of orders.” Ian said with a grin.  “Most of them are post, but you’ve got fourteen kilos of coloured sugar for Exeter plus another six boxes of fripperies and they don’t have a postal address.” Steve groaned.

“I can give a hand.” Dave said unexpectedly.  “I’ve got plenty of bookings but I’ve got some gaps in my schedule.  I don’t mind helping out.”

“Fiona could really do with some help sorting out the goody bags for the reception.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Lord Ragnar wants to make a good impression.”

Fiona looked up and caught Louise’s expression as she looked at Ian.  Fiona looked quickly away.  “I’d be glad of the help.  Lord Ragnar has asked for 300 bags, and I’m going to be assembling them over the next day or two.  I’ve got some sugary sweets, some popping candy, a small vial of lavender water – that sort of thing.  He wanted lots of little stuff so we’ve got all sorts.”

“You have popping candy for the goody bags?” Freydis’ face lit up as she exchanged glances with Kadogan.

“I got quite a bit extra.” Fiona had been expecting this reaction.  “Perhaps you and Kadogan should check it out, just in case.”

Kadogan wasn’t paying full attention.  “Steve Adderson, if you are going to Exeter then it is entirely possible that you could call in at Lord Harold’s court and ask him whether he had seen any big cats in his land?  There have been many separate sightings of big cats in that area and it is entirely plausible that he may capture images that could be traded for rose petals.”

Steve was still watching Armani who was now having a coughing fit.  “Not this time.  I’m going to be delivering almost non-stop for the next week.”

“It’s not just the solstice, but it’s also wedding season.” Mrs Tuesday pretended not to see Fiona flinch.  “Lots of normals are ordering supplies for weddings and quirky gifts.  To be honest, we’re running short on rose petals.”

Kadogan jumped to his feet.  “But we must secure a supply of these petals.  I shall speak to Gavin Brown immediately!”

Dave looked at Sir Ewan.  “Are you sure about this?”

Sir Ewan grinned.  “You’ve got to speak up at some point.  Why not now?”

“Why do I have to speak up?” Dave grumbled as they approached Lord Ragnar’s domain.  Once again he saw the square of plain stone suddenly disappear and was ushered into Lord Ragnar’s presence.  This time he was shown into Lord Ragnar’s private audience chamber.

Dave looked around with interest.  There were always clues in a room.  This time the clue was that he was dealing with something completely out of his league.  The room looked like a Victorian study.  There was a roaring fireplace, that gave out no heat, and the mahogany mantelpiece was covered with badly painted china dogs.  Dave peered at the leather bound books in the nearest of the bookcases filling the walls.  Apparently Lord Ragnar collected copies of Private Eye, National Geographic, GQ and was up to issue 92 in the ‘Build the Lusitania, one overpriced magazine issue at a time’ series.  He straightened up as Lord Ragnar came into the room.

“Good afternoon, Paladin.” Lord Ragnar gave a polite nod of the head.  “Please, sit down.  I won’t offer you any refreshments.”

“Thank you.” Dave felt relieved at dodging that tricky bit of etiquette.  “I hope I’m not interrupting you.”

“I should politely say, ‘not at all’ but I am, in fact, extremely busy.” Lord Ragnar managed a smile.  “I would be grateful if you could give me a quick summary of the purpose of your visit.”

“I wish to know the purpose of the reception at the White Hart tomorrow night.” Dave said.  “And why the White Hart?”

“The White Hart is some distance from the town centre and not overlooked by anyone else’s CCTV.  There are few dwellings nearby and it is nowhere near any known lair of either Baxter or his associates.  The White Hart is too well protected for an assault.  It is also not the Feast of St John.  We anticipate that there will be an attack on my domain during my usual feast and I wish to allow my adherents to enjoy at least one uninterrupted evening without trouble.”

“I’m just going to remind you that there are a lot of normals out there who do not deserve to be caught up in any power struggle.” Dave tried to sound calmer than he felt.  The last thing York needed was a heaving brawl of vampires, werewolves, elfen and boggarts at the start of the tourist season.

Lord Ragnar smiled again.  “I will certainly be attempting to avoid any…” He searched for words.   “I shall try to avoid any civilian casualties.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Dave said.  “Just in case, I’ll be staying in my old room at the White Hart tomorrow night, but obviously I won’t gate crash your reception.  It’s purely to keep an eye out for Adele and Louise.”

“I think you will find that Louise is more elfen these days.” Lord Ragnar opened the door for them in a polite but unmistakable hint.  “She seems to have taken her ancestry rather to heart.  But if you are in the building, please feel free to join the celebrations.”

Callum walked Adele home after work.  Kadogan had insisted.  Adele found herself glancing sideways at him.  “You will have to come in for a cuppa when we get there.  My mum always insists.”

Callum smiled.  “It’s okay.  I’m sure it will be fine.”

Adele considered her extended family and who was likely to be in.  “My family can get a bit loud, but they’re okay really.”

“Honestly, I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Callum said, glancing around.

Adele noticed Callum checking behind them casually as they crossed a road.  “Do you think we will actually get attacked.”

Callum looked down at her again and shook his head.  “We’re being followed but I don’t think it’s a threat.  They almost certainly already know where you live and won’t interfere.  If your house is as full as you say then they aren’t going to attempt anything there.  Someone will be collecting you tomorrow – probably me again.”

“As long as you’re okay with that.” Adele fought the urge to look round frantically.  “How do you know we’re being followed?”

“I recognise the vampire from when I was part of Baxter’s faction.” Callum gently put an arm around Adele’s waist as he steered her back across the road and down an unexpected side street.  “His name was Kai and he had only recently been made a vampire.  To be honest, I think he regretted it.  He isn’t much of a threat.  I’m finding it a lot harder being around so many normals.  I feel exposed.”

Adele looked up at him.  He was clean shaven with short hair and his blue eyes seemed far calmer than anyone had a right to be.  “You don’t look like a werewolf,” she said honestly.  “You look like a bodybuilder, or a sports coach.”

“Thanks, I think.” Callum smiled again.  “It’s just so unusual.  Only a few of my old pack had regular dealings with the outside world.  We just stayed on our farms and kept our heads down.  It’s very different here.”

“I suppose so.” Adele looked around.  York could get very crowded.  It must be a shock for someone who had stayed out of even the smaller towns.  “What do you think about the big cat thing?”

Callum chuckled and guided Adele back to the main route.  “I think Kai has given up.  I think Kadogan is having a little fun with the idea, but he would certainly go for it.  I think it would be harmless, but it would be a lie.” He gestured for Adele to go in front of him on the narrow corner.

“I just hope it takes Steve and Fiona’s mind off things.” Adele felt unexpected relieved as she saw her house at the end of the street.  “Both of them look a wreck.”

“It does look bad.” Callum agreed.  “I think Mrs Tuesday is leaving it until the business with Baxter is sorted out and then she will take charge.  She won’t put up with any nonsense and even I can see that they are pining for each other.”  He held the gate open for Adele to go before him up her garden path.

“Brace yourself,” Adele told him as she pulled out her key.  “You’re about to meet my family.  Good luck.”

Fiona dragged herself down to one of the cellars to pick up another box of cheap fidget spinners.  She looked around.  The fidget spinners were between some premium grade frankincense and a case of organic nettle seeds.

“You are not strong.”

Fiona nearly jumped out of her skin as she turned around to see Freydis.  “I didn’t see you there.”

Freydis waved a notebook and pencil.  “I was making a list of the coffee supplies.  Lord Marius is a connoisseur of coffee and I thought I would gather his opinion.” She sniffed.  “He never normally withholds his opinion on anything.”

“He takes his coffee very sweet.” Fiona said, pulling the fidget spinners towards her.  Maybe while she was down here she could pick up another pack of the honey flavoured lipbalm.

“You are not strong.” Freydis slid her notebook and pen into her jeans pocket.  “I will help you carry some of the things.  You should have asked one of the werewolves to help.  They would appreciate being asked.”

“I don’t like to bother them.  Besides, Ian was signing over a collection to the courier and Callum is walking Adele home.”

“Both Ian and Callum feel that they owe you a great deal.” Freydis easily hefted the fidget spinners.  “It makes them feel needed if you ask them to do something.  They are quite lost without a pack structure and while they are staying remarkably sane, they benefit from being given duties.”

“I suppose that makes sense.” Fiona picked up a few packs of the lip balm and turned wearily towards the stairs.  “I’ll keep that in mind.  But they are such good people.  I feel really safe with them.”

“You are currently extremely safe with them.” Freydis followed her with the fidget spinners and a box of sugar sachets.  “I believe Ian will be walking you home tonight.  You should know that they are people that you can trust in a difficult situation.”

“Mmm.” Fiona dragged herself up the stairs and into the meeting room.  Everything was laid out logically.  A heap of large, glittery tulle bags filled a box at one end of the table.  The strange variety of items set up for the goody bags were arranged down the table and at the other end was a large box with filled goody bags neatly tied with sparkling silver ribbon.  Fiona dumped the lip balm on one of the chairs.  “Can you put the boxes on that side table, please.”

Freydis gazed over the gimcrack treasure and her eyes sparkled.  “This will make the party a triumph.” Her eyes clouded a little.  “I wish I had thought of these when I was hosting the parties, although there were always gifts.” She pulled herself back to the present.  “But are you taking vitamins?  Are you eating appropriately?  You are under considerable stress and you need to tend to yourself.”

Dave came in with another box of the bags.  He looked warily at Fiona.  “I’ve done some courses in nutrition.” He said.  “Most of them were gimmicks but I can pick up some supplements for you if you like?”

Fiona pulled open the boxes of lip balm and set them in their spot on the table.  “That will be kind, thank you.”

“If you ever want to talk,” Dave said hesitantly.  “I mean, I don’t want to pry but you seem to be taking things hard.  I’m a good listener.”

“It’s okay.” Fiona didn’t meet his eyes as she picked up a handful of empty bags.

“I shall bring you a hot chocolate.” Freydis said firmly. “I believe that can be of comfort.  Mrs Tuesday will make sure you have soup for lunch.  You must get your strength up.” Fiona just nodded and started filling more bags.

Mrs Tuesday smoothed down her best dress and took a deep breath.  Lord Ragnar would be here at any moment.  She looked around.  The brownies had done an excellent job.  The White Hart gleamed with every surface polished and every corner decorated.  The buffet was set out in the meeting room and Mrs Tuesday had never seen such a display of gaudy junk food in her life.  They had got in cases of spray cream and edible glitter and spray on food colouring had been used with a lavish hand.  Louise had looked knowing as she had carefully arranged the dishes of frozen berries (sprayed silver, of course, and dusted with icing sugar) on tubs of crushed ice and straightened the dishes of tiny macaroons and meringues that shimmered with artificial colouring.

There were other options, of course, for the non elfen.  The selection of sausage rolls, meat pies and vol au vents for the more traditional of the court was spread over two tables in a corner and the salads, pizza slices and chicken tikka wings had taken over another corner.  A third corner had been left bare as Mrs Tuesday had pointed out that there was no point bringing in the three massive cakes and four trifles until at least some of the buffet had been sampled.

Ian and Callum were running the drinks at the café, along with Freydis who was in charge of the coffee machine.  Mrs Tuesday had left them to sort out the crates of wine and mead and had left Adele with the recipe for non-alcoholic punch and a suggestion to get plenty ready in reserve.  “It’s going to be spiked,” she had told Adele, “So it’s best to keep switching it out.”

Adele was at the till next to a selection of small trinkets.  “I’ve borrowed some of my Uncle Keith’s wine making kit and there’s about four gallons of punch in the back.  I’ve put them in bags of ice so it should be fine.” She looked around.  “I hardly recognise the shop.  Are you sure we’ll be able to get it straight by tomorrow.”

Mrs Tuesday looked around the store.  The White Hart was a big space and the werewolves had moved a lot of the fixtures around.  All the magical basics like athames and pentagrams had been moved out and groups of chairs had been arranged around the room next to small tables.  The room was full of flowers.  “The brownies will get it set by tomorrow,” Mrs Tuesday said, looking at the huge swags of roses over the bookcases.  “I just hope Steve is alright.  He has hayfever and I’m not sure how much antihistamine he’s taken.”

“Far too much.” Steve said, coming up behind them.  “I am going to have to stick to coffee tonight.  Here they are.”

Kadogan was enjoying every second.  He swept a low bow to Lord Ragnar.  “Enter, my most gracious liege lord, and be welcome.  The food and drink is freely given without fear or favour or any debt.”

“Thank you, my most loyal and trusted liegeman.” Lord Ragnar returned the bow with a lordly nod of his head and swept in.  “Behold, my trusted courtiers who are in my train.”

Kadogan formally bowed to the mass of people following Lord Ragnar.  “All friends of Lord Ragnar enter and be welcome.  The food and drink is freely given without fear or favour or any debt.”

There was a collective sigh as the group swept in.  Steve cast an experienced eye over the visitors.  Lord Ragnar may have asked for 300 goody bags but there were nowhere near that many.  Steve suspected that many of the surplus goody bags would be handed out over the coming weeks and that there would be a demand for similar, or more ostentatious, bags from princes all over the UK.  While he kept a smiling face, inwardly he sighed.  All of them would want personal delivery and as much fuss as possible.

He looked around the room.  Dave and Sir Ewan were chatting easily with Kieran.  The werewolf seemed as stunned by the glitter as the normals, but he was politely ignoring it and sticking to the more substantial stuff, taking neat bites from the pizza slice on his plate.  Louise was ladling out punch while Mrs Tuesday looked like she was trading dirty jokes with Miss Patience as she handed over a glass of wine.  Freydis was producing mainly hot chocolate for the elfen, topped with towering whirls of spray cream with added sparkles and glitter.  The werewolves were busy.  Ian was expertly opening half a dozen bottles of red wine while Callum circulated smoothly carrying trays of glasses.  Adele was wrapping up the first purchase of the night.  The werewolf that was buying a very pretty copper necklace was chatting happily away.  “It’s for the wife, you know.  It didn’t seem the night for her to tag along, but she’s been meaning to come in since you opened.  Do you have a catalogue?”

Steve cursed the antihistamines.  Trying to shake off the fogginess, he looked around, this time looking properly.  Lord Ragnar was there talking with Lord Lothar from the Village.  There were a couple of other princes around as well, along with some of the more lethal of the elfen.  Steve had run into several of them and while they were more or less housetrained, they were not normally invited to cocktail evenings.  Kieran Latimer had not brought any women from the pack.  Steve knew from experience that the female werewolves were just as deadly as the male, but they traditionally stayed back and guarded the cubs and their homes.  The werewolves that were with Kieran were all tough looking veterans.

There were plenty of boggarts around, all of whom were being very nice to Mrs Tuesday, and there were even a couple of goblins in a corner seeing how many sausage rolls they could cram into their mouths.  They were all fighters, though.  Miss Patience was here, as the most lethal vampire in York, and the vampires accompanying her were staying close and looking twitchy.

Steve felt he was missing something important.  He was in a room full of lethal non normals, and then there was the White Hart staff.  Mrs Tuesday was too old to be mixing it, no matter what her reputation said, and while Ian and Callum could look after themselves and Freydis was legendary in a brawl, he didn’t think that Louise and Adele were safe if something happened.

There was one of those strange lulls that happen at parties, a brief pause where by some coincidence everyone drew breath.  Steve’s voice sounded unnaturally loud as he broke the quiet.  “Where’s Fiona?”