Luke was paying an infrequent visit to the White Hart. As the second paladin, he tried to distance himself from the non-normal world as much as possible, but his mother had sent over a new recipe for jollof rice and the White Hart was the best place to get the good spices. As an honoured guest, he was ushered into the back room with a free coffee. He smiled at Chloe. “What a wonderful place to work.” He waved a hand around the spice room, kept well away from the werewolves’ sensitive noses, and filled with fresh spices and incense sent by Mrs Tuesday’s contacts. It was all immaculately kept with the grinders and scales clean and dust free and the fresh, whole spices carefully sealed in large, plastic tubs.
Chloe smiled. She was bundled up with her hair covered and a little mask over her face, which she pulled down. “It’s amazing. I never knew the difference between the fresh spices and the stuff you get in the supermarket. It’s amazing.” She went over to the storage unit. “What are you looking for?”
“Ground coriander.” Luke smiled apologetically. “My mother would tell me to grind my own, but I don’t have much time.”
“Yes, you’re one of those internet consultants.” Chloe pulled out one of the big boxes. “How is business?”
“Not bad,” Luke said, “Could be a lot worse, and at least I get my lodgings.”
“And a few meals from Mrs Tuesday.” Chloe said, pulling out a large packet. “On the house.”
“Are you sure?” Luke asked, taking the packet.
“Of course.” Chloe said. “I have strict instructions from Steve and Fiona. You and Darren don’t get charged. Dave doesn’t get charged as long as he doesn’t take advantage.”
Luke laughed. “Dave is a reformed character,” he said. “but I understand your caution.”
Jasmine rushed into the room, her nose wrinkling at the intense smell. “Luke, you have to come. Lady Freydis has happened.”
Luke stood next to Steve and looked up. He was one of a small circle around a large horse chestnut tree next to a piece of waste ground. To everyone’s relief, it was on the edge of York, but it wasn’t completely hidden. Sir Ewan joined him, looking up. “She was bound to do something like this eventually.” He said. “And at least no-one’s got hurt so far.”
“How long do you think the tree can take the weight?” Steve asked. He looked at Luke. “It’s up to you.”
“Has anyone managed to get hold of Dave.” Luke asked desperately.
“Still out in the Dales with Elaine.” Steve said. “And if he has a clue that this is going on, he’ll stay there.”
Luke shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. All it needed was some kids to come past and try and film this on their phones, or some students who would want in on the joke, and it could go very wrong indeed. “Lady Freydis,” he called up to the figure at the top of the tree, “Why did you take the van up there?”
Steve exchanged a glance with Sir Ewan. It was as good a start as any with a crazed elfen, and Lady Freydis was looking crazed. “Get her talking,” Steve said quietly. “She can get things off her chest.”
A flurry of autumn leaves fell as the van, wedged in the upper crown of the tree, shifted. The group of normals and non-normals surrounding Lady Freydis took a collective step back.
“I want to speak to Fiona.” Lady Freydis said and took a mouthful from a large earthenware pitcher. “She will understand.”
Luke glanced at Steve who nodded and took out his phone. Luke took a deep breath. “Lady Freydis, are you well?”
There was a loud wail from the top of the tree. “I am not well. I am suffering.” Lady Freydis took another gulp. “Also, there isn’t a latte up here.”
“Why don’t you and the van carefully come down and we can get you a latte.” Luke thought for a second. “Although I think the best latte in York is the one that you make, I’m sure we’ll be able to find something almost as good nearby. Then you can tell us everything.”
“A Prince cannot tell everything.” Lady Freydis took another large gulp from the pitcher, coughing and spluttering.
“If she’s sick from up there, there’s going to be a heck of a coverage.” Sir Ewan said quietly.
Luke tried to keep a straight face. “Lady Freydis, you are among friends. Why don’t you and the van come down carefully and we can look after you.”
There was another wail from the top of the tree. Sir Ewan leant closer to Luke. “This is perfectly normal behaviour for an elfen under stress. We just need to do damage limitation.”
Steve came back. “Fiona’s on her way and she’s bringing some hot chocolate with her.” He looked over at Luke who shrugged. “Lady Freydis, what is the matter.”
“Fiona will understand.” Lady Freydis took another large swig, lost her balance, slipped and grabbed wildly before settling on a slightly lower branch. One of the wheels of the van slipped free and there was an ominous creaking. “She understands the pain of failing at marriage.”
“Fiona has not failed at marriage.” Steve took a deep breath. “We are very happy.”
“I can tell when people lie, you know.” Lady Freydis hung upside down to give Steve a drunken and malicious grin.
“That is a very nice tree.” Luke tried a different tactic. “I’m worried that the van will break it.”
“I could lay waste to York again.” Lady Freydis said. “My grief runs so deep. What is a tree?”
“Trees are important.” Atherton said. “And the dryad is a lovely woman, just sleeping at the moment.”
Lady Freydis scowled. “Where is Fiona?”
“It takes time for her to travel.” Luke said calmly. “Why did you take the van up there?”
“I call her Bucephalus,” Lady Freydis said, “For I shall conquer.” She pulled herself up and tried to take another swig from the pitcher. There was another wail. “I have no latte and no moon-mead. This is unacceptable.”
“Why don’t you and Bucephalus come carefully and gently down and we can see what we can do about drinks of all types.” Luke said. He glanced quickly at Sir Ewan. “Who was Bucephalus?”
“Alexander the Great’s horse.” Atherton answered, looking very worried.
“I shall stay up here until I can drink the moonshine.” Lady Freydis announced. “The court can attend me here.”
“Lady Freydis, you are being ridiculous.” The deep voice of Martin carried across the crowd. “You do not appear powerful.”
“Have you any drink for me?” Lady Freydis asked, leaning precariously across a branch.
“I will not discuss anything until you and the van are safely on the ground.” Martin said firmly.
“Bucephalus.” Lady Freydis said. “The van is called Bucephalus.”
“I don’t care.” Martin said. “Not until it is on the ground and ready to drive.”
“I could make it fly.” Lady Freydis said.
“And that would make you look even more ridiculous, copying films.” Martin said. “Come down now.”
Then suddenly Lady Freydis was standing safely on the ground, the van neatly parked on the nearby lane and she was pouting at Martin. “I am your prince,” she said.
Martin bowed deeply. “And now I can respect your dignity. Now, what is this about?”
“Kadogan suggested that I marry to aid Fiona’s marriage to heal,” Lady Freydis said. “But I still mourn.”
“What!” Steve stared at Lady Freydis and then looked around to see if Kadogan was nearby. “There is nothing wrong with my marriage.”
Luke stepped forward. “Lady Freydis, I am so sorry that you are sad. Why don’t you head back to the White Hart and have a herbal tea? I’m sure that will help.” Every eye looked in disbelief at Luke. He waved a helpless hand. “It always helps my mother.”
“Lady Freydis does not need to calm down.” Martin said firmly. “She needs to step up and to be a prince. She needs to rule.” He looked hard at Lady Freydis. “Princes do not rule effectively from the top of a horse chestnut tree.”
“How about an oak?” Lady Freydis’ heart wasn’t in it. She ran a hand through her hair and looked ruefully at Martin. “You are correct, as always.” She sighed. “And so is Paladin Luke Fawcett. Though I shall take my pleasant refreshment in my domain.”
Luke looked at the leaves and twigs strewn around and the strain on everyone’s faces. “I hope you feel better soon.” He managed.
“And I think I need to have a word with Kadogan.” Steve said carefully. “In fact, I may need several words.”