Unexpected

Fiona winced as she lifted down the carton of incense cones.  Ian grinned.

“Did Dave work you hard last night?  He said you’d done really well.”

“I’m not really used to a lot of exercise.” Fiona said carefully.  “Though I think working here has helped.  Right, let’s get this shelf wiped down.”

“It’s worth getting it sorted before tomorrow’s delivery.” Ian said, dragging a large carton of charcoal to one side.  “This way we only have to move a few boxes.”

Fiona didn’t answer.  Her eyes were a little dreamy as she wiped down the middle shelf, wincing again as she stretched.

“It looks like Dave wore you out.” Ian shook his head.  “It’s a good thing I’m in shape.  Someone’s got to lift the heavy stuff.”  He looked down at his sweat stained t-shirt and pulled it off, tossing it casually near the door.  “It’s warm in here.”

Fiona wasn’t really paying attention.  She methodically arranged the packs of hawthorn berries and dried Solomon’s Seal in the new baskets, frowning slightly.

“Fiona, are you there?” Ian waved a hand in her direction.

“Sorry, I was miles away.” Fiona blushed.   “I’ve been thinking about the new website, and I’m still a little achy from yesterday.”

Ian laughed.  “You’re not that much out of shape.  Don’t let Dave work you too hard.” He picked up the sack of oak galls.  “But it’s good you’re learning how to look after yourself.” He said, suddenly serious.  “And either Dave or I are happy to walk you to and from your home.”

“Steve might be moving into the building, in the flat below.” Fiona said, paying full attention to the basket of juniper berries she was arranging.  “He’ll be able to walk me to and from here.”

“Hmm.” Ian looked unconvinced.  “He’s okay but I’ve not heard that he’s a fighter.”  He shook his head.  “Perhaps things will settle down soon.”

Kadogan stuck his head around the corner of the door and frowned.  “Fiona Ellen Greene, there is a coach party due in five minutes, Ian has his shirt off and you have a dirty face.”

Fiona looked blankly at Ian and registered his bare chest.  “What’s Ian’s shirt got to do with anything?  I’ll be right there.”

Fiona had a quick wipe at the sink in the kitchenette and rushed to the till.  Kadogan looked disapproving.  “I was just helping Ian with the shelves.”

“Ian had his shirt off.” Kadogan said.

“He had been working hard.” Fiona watched the packed coach disembarking.  She could see Louise and Mrs Tuesday racking up the cups behind Kadogan.

“Why should that make him take his shirt off.  Are you romantically interested in him?”

“Short answer is I am not.  Long answer is that is none of your business and I’m too busy to give you the full details of why you shouldn’t ask.” Fiona plastered on a smile as the doors opened.

Kadogan was not good at hiding his feelings and stalked the floor with a glare until Mrs Tuesday told him to pull himself together when he disappeared into the back room.   It was a ‘normal’ coach party so Fiona was kept on her toes trying to explain stuff she didn’t fully understand herself and a lady got very upset at some of the books and had to be taken outside to calm down.  A stand of expensive wrapping paper got knocked over with some of the rolls getting bent and one of the customers managed to drop a very full tray of tea all over the café area.  Fiona was glad when the coach party finally left.  She took a few deep breaths to calm herself and then jumped when Kadogan appeared behind her.

“Ian Tait is not suitable for a romance,” he said firmly.  “He is still in love with his ex wife and she with him.  There may be a possibility that he will be able to get back to the old pack and they will remarry.  Steve Adderson is a much better match.”

“I can’t see them letting him back in.” Louise joined them at the till, wiping her hands on her apron.  “He did summon a demon.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted as she followed Louise.  “Of course they won’t let him back, but he may settle into another pack yet, and who knows what will happen.” She gave Fiona an evil grin.  “So what did Ian look like with his shirt off?”

Fiona looked blank and shrugged.  “He looked okay, I suppose.  I didn’t think of it like that.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “It’s just like I thought.  You’re not over your old boyfriend.”

Kadogan looked outraged.  “But that person was completely unsuitable,” he snapped.

“I was busy.” Fiona shook her head.  “I’d better go back to help out.”

“I shall go.” Kadogan said loftily.

Fiona stared at him.  “You hate sorting out boxes.”

“It is unsuitable for either you or Louise to be around Ian Tait when he has his shirt off.” Kadogan stalked towards the store rooms.

“I could always give a hand.” Mrs Tuesday said blandly.

“It is not suitable for Ian Tait to be around you when he is not wearing a shirt.” Kadogan sniffed and disappeared into the store rooms.

Fiona quickly tidied the till area and checked the ornate clock strategically placed across the store and sighed.  If no coach turned up then they could expect a lull for another half hour then it would be the lunch time rush followed by plenty of business until it tailed off in the evening.  She looked up and smiled as Steve and Lord Marius came in.

“It’s good to see you both.  Would you like a coffee, Lord Marius?  I have some that is supposed to be scented with oranges, but you would know better than I could.”

“That sounds wonderfully intriguing.” Lord Marius’ green eyes gleamed.  “Steve Adderson also drinks coffee, but very plain.”

“Can I also have a small, very strong tea for Armani?” Steve asked.  “He’s looking a bit peaky today.”

Armani struggled out of Steve’s shirt pocket.  He looked paler than normal and his bat ears drooped.  He looked up at Steve.  “I didn’t get much sleep last night.” He paused and had a long, self-indulgent, lung-rasping cough.  Fiona watched in fascination as Armani caught his breath and wiped a dirty sleeve across his face.  “A cuppa would be welcome, Miss, two sugars.”

Kadogan walked in.  He looked like he had been working hard and there were streaks of dust across his shirt.  He nodded to Lord Marius as Louise added a mug with an Earl Grey teabag to the row.  “It is good to see you, Lord Marius.  I have been helping Ian Tait with boxes and some of the incenses are very dusty.” He sneezed.

“God Bless You!” Lord Marius said immediately and with concern.  “Why have you been helping with boxes?”

“Ian Tait has his shirt off.” Kadogan watched as Louise made them all drinks, including Ian.

“I’ll just take Ian’s drink to him.” Louise picked up two full mugs.  Mrs Tuesday chuckled.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Lord Marius was watching Armani thoughtfully as the imp almost inhaled the strong, sweet tea.  “If Ian Tait has his shirt off then you cannot go as the daughter of Lord Ragnar cannot be romantically entangled with a werewolf, and Fiona cannot go because she is romantically involved with Steve Adderson and Mrs Tuesday cannot go because she will embarrass Ian Tait.” He pulled out a tray.  “I shall accompany Kadogan back to the store room with drinks.  I have much to discuss with Kadogan.”

“I’m not exactly a daughter of Lord Ragnar, and why shouldn’t I be ‘entangled’?” Louise snapped, pulling the mugs of tea away from Lord Marius.

Lord Marius looked shifty.  “You sort of count as a daughter, no matter how many generations between the encounter Lord Ragnar had and your birth and Mrs Tuesday will explain everything else.”

“And what do you mean about me and Fiona.” Steve asked carefully.

Armani finally set down his cup and laboriously flapped his way over to one of the air vents.  “I’m going up to the roof for a ciggie.”

“He upsets the pigeons when he gets up there,” Fiona said to Steve, “And the brownies complain about the extra cleaning.”

Lord Marius waved an irritated hand.  “It’s only a matter of time,” he said.  “You two are made for each other.”  He looked suspiciously after Armani and then at Steve.  “Especially if you remember the essential quality of loyalty.”  Then he disappeared with Kadogan.

Fiona opened up her laptop at the prototype website.  She glanced over to where Mrs Tuesday was explaining something to Louise.  “Last night was…” She trailed off.

“I thought last night was amazing.” Steve swallowed.  “I only meant to kiss you.  I thought I was being pushy enough with that.”

“It was…” Fiona struggled for words.  “It was wonderful.”

“Armani complained all this morning.” Steve grinned with a hint of smugness.  “He said we kept him awake.”

“Thank goodness there’s no-one in the flat below.” Fiona said.  “We must have made some noise.  Next door on the same floor joins on the kitchen, so they probably didn’t hear as much.” She glanced over again at Louise who was going pink as Mr Tuesday waved her hands expressively.  “By the way, Armani left a stain on the sofa.  Is there any way to get it clean?”

Steve winced.  “I’ve never managed to get it cleaned up.” He looked uncomfortable.  “I didn’t expect to stay the night so I didn’t have Armani’s stuff with me.”  He looked even more uncomfortable.  “Did you manage to fix the shower curtain?”

Fiona blushed. “No, but I can pick up a new one tonight on the way home.”  She took a deep breath.  “I’ve never, ever been so passionate.”

“Neither have I.” Steve said with uttermost truth.  “I didn’t know I had it in me.” He stroked a hand carefully over the laptop.  “I think Armani thought he was being complimentary but…”

Fiona held up a hand.  “I don’t want to know.” Across the room she could see Mrs Tuesday’s hand gestures getting wider and Louise’s expression sliding from embarrassment to horror.

“I have to take that shipment of phosphorous down to Birmingham tonight,” Steve was apparently concentrating on the screen.  “But I could come round tomorrow night.  No pressure to do the same.” He added hastily.  “I mean, it was amazing, but I don’t want to assume, I mean, you need not…” He stumbled to a halt.

“I’d like it a lot.” Fiona said gently as she put a hand over his.  She smiled.  “You can bring the pizza this time and I’ll get the wine.”

“Deal.” Steve looked down into her eyes.  “I’ll see you tomorrow night.  I’ll text.”  He whistled for Armani who limped down the air vent and flapped dolefully across the room.  With a quick wave to Mrs Tuesday and a pale looking Louise he was gone.

Dave followed reluctantly as Sir Craig led him along Stonegate.  “I’ve lived in York all my life.  I would have known if there was something down here.  It’s too full of tourists to move.”

He had a point.  The place was jammed as everyone made the most of a sunny afternoon.  Besides, it was the same old place.  The shop selling the replica arms and armour, the coffee shops, the souvenir places and the upmarket china shop looked just the same as they had always done.

Sir Craig shot him an irritated look and glanced quickly around before cutting down one of the alleys.  “You have to have an invitation to know where it is, or at least be with someone who has an invitation.” He glanced around again before ducking into a non-descript alcove and knocking on one of the battered stones in the wall.  “Last time I was here it was grim – pink everywhere.  They had glitter balls and a mirrored cocktail bar.  It looked like a tart’s parlour.  Try and be polite and don’t be fooled.  It’s a dangerous place.”

Dave tried to make sense of what he saw next.  There was no sliding door and nothing swung in or out.  Instead there was a sense of a rectangular opening from this world to another, less friendly world.  There were no hinges or steps, just a sudden entrance where the wall used to be.  As his stomach lurched he looked over Sir Craig’s shoulder and saw a dimly lit stone passage with a man standing in the centre, looking coolly amused.  He was tall and slim looking, with long, thick red hair tied back and he was wearing what looked like an old fashioned velvet smoking jacket.  He had the same sense of a blurred silhouette that Dave was starting to see around Kadogan.

“Sir Craig, it is pleasant to see you.  Lord Ragnar will be honoured to have a Templar in his hall.  And who is your friend?”

“Hello, Atherton.” Sir Craig strode in.  “This is Dave Kinson.  It’s important that we see Lord Ragnar as soon as possible.”

Atherton looked curious and shrugged.  “The Court has changed, Sir Craig.  Now that the Lord no longer has a lady he has changed the décor to something more his taste.”

“I doubt it could be worse.” Sir Craig said, passing Atherton warily and putting his hand on the door at the other end of the plain stone passage.  “I was saying to Dave that the court was decorated mainly in pink.”

Atherton shrugged.  Freydis had very distinct tastes.  The understanding is that someone once gave her a Barbie.  It’s been redecorated since she left.”

“Well, that’s something.” Sir Craig pushed the door open.  “A Prince’s court tells you a lot about the state of the non normals.  The showier the place the crazier it gets, and if they have fairy lights…” His voice trailed off.

Dave looked past him and shook his head a little.  He had been expecting pink.  Instead there was, well, Victorian.  Sir Craig started down the stairs and Dave followed.  The stairs seemed to be solid mahogany, sweeping round in a gentle curve as they descended to what looked like the discreet entrance to a Victorian gentleman’s club.  The floor was black and white chequerboard tiles and the doors leading off were subdued but immaculate mahogany with gleaming brass fittings.  There was a row of umbrella stands and an aspidistra.  A small desk was positioned next to the foot of the stairs and what looked like a pretty receptionist was checking some paperwork and a portrait of the Queen was behind her.  Dave was relieved to see a young Queen Elizabeth II rather than Queen Victoria.

The receptionist smiled.  “Sir Craig, a pleasure to see you and this is…?”

“Dave Kinson, it’s important he sees Lord Ragnar.” Sir Craig said, coolly polite.

“And where is Sir Ewan?” The receptionist came from behind the desk and led them towards the large double doors opposite.  “He is usually the Templar that visits.”

“He’s busy.” Sir Craig gave a bland smile.

The receptionist tilted her immaculately styled auburn head.  “Of course.  The minor incident off Petergate.”

“They were tourists, not target practice and the boggarts need to learn.” Sir Craig looked pointed at the door.  The receptionist smiled professionally and opened the door.

“Never touch a door handle when you’re in one of these realms.” Sir Craig murmured as they walked in.  “They plant nasty tricks on some of them, but not all.  It’s easy to get careless.”

Dave nodded and filed it away as he looked around.  It wasn’t pink.  Filled bookcases broke the expanse of discreetly dark green wallpaper.  Old fashioned leather couches in burgundy, chocolate and black were scattered around the room and their side tables gleamed mahogany under the shaded oil lamps.  Luxuriant potted ferns and aspidistra were dotted around and in one corner there was a particularly large wing chair next to the roaring fire.  There was a group gathered around Lord Ragnar as he sat in it.  ‘That’s his throne.’ Dave thought.

He looked around at the people.  He carefully kept his face blank, but he was reassured in a strange way.  A heap of what looked like large dogs were sprawled in front of the fire, but Dave guessed they were werewolves enjoying their down time.  A lot of the people there had the blurred outlines he had come to associate with glamours but not all.  A large, hairy, gangling creature, probably a boggart, was chatting with an elegant brunette.  They were both holding brandy glasses and the boggart was wearing a Rolex.  Small creatures were having a strong discussion with Kieran.  They were almost human but not quite with wide, knobbly faces and rustic style clothing.  Dave found a little of his tension leave.  He was still on guard, but whatever their shape, they were still following some basic rules.  Kieran was having a tough time dealing with the little creatures surrounding him.  Dave guessed that there were issues with a job, something about Kieran trying to get something added on to a deal and the creatures wanting a little bit more payback.  It was good natured enough, but Dave could see that Kieran was on the back foot.

It was the same with the boggart.  He was being very deferential to the brunette but she was the one laughing over much at his jokes.  The brunette needed a favour from the boggart but it was far from a sure deal.  Dave looked around and tried to read the room.  Some were like Kadogan and impossible to read but body language seemed to carry across a lot of different bodies.  That was helpful.

They made their way slowly across the room.  Sir Craig nodded politely at a few people, and Dave acknowledged Kieran as he left his negotiations, but they needed to speak to Lord Ragnar.  There was a murmur behind them and the men turned.  It was Mrs Tuesday.

She looked very respectable.  The apron and day dress had been replaced by a fake silk blouse with a beige skirt suit.  She was dressed like a slightly dowdy, old fashioned granny going to a wedding.  However her expression was coldly determined.  She didn’t rush up to Lord Ragnar but she walked with purpose, stopping in front of him with a polite curtsey and a very hard expression.  I shiver seemed to run around the hall and suddenly everyone was alert.

“Is she really that scary?” Dave muttered to Sir Craig.

“Absolutely.” Sir Craig was suddenly showing a lot more tension and he looked around as if checking escape routes.  “She may be failing compared to the old days, but if she ever goes rogue then hell will break loose.  It’s not about how strong, or fast, or competent she is, it’s about how willing she is to kill in cold blood.  And she is scarily capable at that.”

“I have a grievance.” Mrs Tuesday said clearly.  “I wish to be heard before the Prince.”

Lord Ragnar sat carefully upright.  “I will hear your grievance.”

“Reynauld Baxter, the vampire, is selling mullein to boggarts at inflated prices.  He’s messing the young boggarts around and he’s supplying mullein mixed with camomile instead of the pure stuff.” Mrs Tuesday stood upright, aware of the eyes upon her but rigidly fixed on Lord Ragnar.  “It isn’t fair.”

“Surely there is an element of ‘buyer beware’.” Lord Ragnar said, keeping his voice calm.  “Perhaps they should merely purchase elsewhere, from the White Hart, for example.”

“If he hadn’t been telling all the young boggarts that they could only buy for him or be in trouble with your court then perhaps they would.” Mrs Tuesday’s voice was not particularly loud but it rang around the hall.

“So he has been dishonest.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.

“He’s been selling stuff, calling it one thing when he’s been handing out another and making plenty of pennies.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “He’s been thinking that it’s only boggarts and it doesn’t matter because they don’t matter.”  She broke eye contact and looked coldly around the hall.  “Lots of people seem to think this.  They think they can treat us boggarts like a nuisance unless they want someone to do fighting.  And there’s some vampires, naming no names but we all know to exclude those like Mr Beddoes and that nice Lord Edvard, but there’s some vampires that think the rules don’t apply to them.  I don’t think it’s fair.  It’s not right.”

The silence rang around the hall.  Lord Ragnar leant forward.  “Mr Baxter, you say?  Is he here?” He looked over the people gathered, smiling thinly.  “For some reason he hasn’t been to the court for a few days.” He looked around again.  “Has anyone seen him recently?”  There were a lot of shaken heads.  “So, he is a cheat in more than one way.”  Lord Ragnar bowed his head to Mrs Tuesday.   “Your grievance has been heard.  What would you have happen?”

“I am not a permanent dweller in your court,” Mrs Tuesday said formally.  “I ask for permission to hunt him.  If that does not please your lordship I ask that you declare him outlaw.” There was a surprised hiss running around the room now.

“I think that it is time to remind everyone that boggarts are valued just as much as all subjects.” Lord Ragnar leaned back.  “And now we have an emporium in York dealing with so many wonderful things perhaps it is good to remind people that trading fairly and honestly is required.  I declare a hunt against the vampire Reynauld Baxter.  If he is in the bounds of my domain then he needs to be chased out.  If he is slow getting out then he suffers the consequences.” Lord Ragnar looked around.  There were a lot of vicious smiles and hungry expressions.  “I will not ask any questions about his welfare.” He looked at a dainty blonde on the other side of the fireplace.  “Miss Patience, as the leader of the vampires in my domain, do you have any comment?”

Miss Patience shook her head.  “Mr Baxter is not exactly a credit to our kind.” She said, putting down her knitting.  “He has lairs near the Railway station and Fairfax House.  I can email or text details to anyone who is interested.”

Dave noticed that there were a few people around with visible fangs.  There was a lynchmob atmosphere.  Sir Craig grabbed his arm.

“Come on,” he murmured as he headed quickly towards Lord Ragnar.  “Now is a good time to remind him that normals are not acceptable collateral damage.”

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