“I can’t believe Kadogan set us up on a date.” Fiona allowed Steve to take her coat. “It’s embarrassing.”
“It could be worse.” Steve hung her coat on the coat rack and slipped his own off. He handed his card to the aloof waiter. “Although I’m not sure how. Elfen can be unpredictable but if they like you then they usually are okay.” He thought for a second. “Mostly.”
The waiter showed them to a secluded table at the back of the restaurant. Fiona stared with horror at the red rose sitting in the middle of the table. “Is this likely to go away quickly?”
Steve seated her and then sat down. He shrugged. “I have no idea. Elfen either give up quickly or not at all.”
The waiter returned with a dusty bottle and, with an elaborate flourish, poured a small amount to taste. Steve sipped it and nodded his approval. He waited until the waiter had poured two glasses and left, smirking. “I am completely out of my depth in this restaurant. I’m more used to fast food.”
“So am I.” Fiona took a sip of her wine. It was the most amazing wine she had ever tasted. “What are we going to do?”
“First of all, we talk business.” Steve said, getting out his tablet. “Then we can start worrying about the personal.”
The waiter reappeared. “Mr Kadogan let us know your preferred food. We start with the devilled eggs.”
Fiona and Steve exchanged glances. Fiona got her tablet out. “Let’s start on the business.”
Fiona found herself relaxing with Steve. He was good company. They bounced a few ideas off each other and found themselves nodding along to each other about all sorts of things. “I don’t know why Kadogan put so much of the business in my hands.” Fiona said. “It’s his money that made the start up possible.”
“Kadogan is actually very sensible for an elfen,” Steve said as the waiter took away the starter plates and poured them each another glass of wine. “And it comes down to rules. There are a lot of rules for a business, especially in a heritage city like York. There’s health and safety, employment law, rules about opening hours and food hygiene and elfen find rules difficult.” Steve smiled at the waiter as he put down the venison ragout and swished away. “It’s like this. If you told an elfen that they couldn’t sell an elephant then the elfen couldn’t ignore it. They couldn’t just flout a rule. So Kadogan would literally not be able to sell an elephant. However, even if Kadogan hadn’t wanted to sell an elephant before, if you told him he couldn’t then he would immediately become obsessed with selling elephants. He’d look for loopholes and bye laws and ways around the rule. You would be wrapping things in elephant gift wrap or selling books about elephants – it would all get very silly. Kadogan knows this, so he hands it over to you. So you can worry about the rules and he can carry on with whatever obsession he’s picked.”
“Candles. He’s obsessed with candles.” Fiona said. “It’s ridiculous. He loves counting candles. It’s how he found out about the ghost in the stock room. It was moving a candle.”
“That’s what makes Kadogan perhaps one of the trickiest elfen.” Steve took a bite of the venison. It melted in his mouth. “He knows he was going to get obsessed, so I suspect that he actively looked for something safe to focus on. You will never have a problem with candles.”
“And you think he’s obsessing about us getting together?” Fiona asked. “This food is amazing.”
“It’s worse than that.” Steve said. “It’s both him and Lord Marius. They’re both centuries old, both comparatively sensible and both extremely well respected. They’re likely to reinforce each other. It could be complicated.”
Fiona took another sip of wine. She couldn’t remember when she had last felt so relaxed. “Perhaps they’ll get distracted.”
“Are you sure you’re not having sex with my husband?”
Fiona looked up in horror as Freydis strolled up to them, pulled a chair from another table over to them and sat down with inhuman grace. “I am not having sex with your husband. I hardly know your husband. I hadn’t thought about your husband after the reception until you talked to me this morning. Seriously, there is nothing between me and your husband at all!”
“It is good to see you again, Lady Freydis.” Steve said as he stood politely.
“It is just Freydis as my husband is divorcing me.” Freydis leant forward suddenly. With dramatic emphasis she clutched his arm. “You are an amazing sorcerer, I know it. Surely you can find out the reason for my dreadful situation.”
Steve pulled his arm away. “I can say with complete certainty that the reason that your husband is divorcing you now is because of your affair with Mr Baxter. That information is freely given because you are about to leave.” There was a tone in his voice that brooked no argument. Freydis pouted.
Fiona’s phone started ringing. “Excuse me,” she said. “It’s Kadogan and he would only call if it was urgent.”
“You could make my husband love me.” Freydis stroked a hand over Steve’s cheek. “I could make it worth your while.”
“I could make you love your husband.” Steve said blandly. “I think that would be a lot more entertaining.”
“Steve, we have to go. I’m sorry, Freydis,” Fiona picked up her bag and smiled apologetically at the waiter. “I’m so sorry. Could we take dessert to go?” She brushed past the surprised Freydis and grabbed her coat. “Steve, someone’s trying to shut down the White Hart.”
Fiona paused as she and Steve reached the front door. “Why are we closed?”
“Best leave it like this until we sort it out.” Steve said with a quick glimpse around the car park. “Lord Marius is on his way.”
Fiona pushed the door open and started taking off her coat. She recognised Sir Ewan, standing uncomfortably in the corner near the meditation books. Ian and Louise were staying quiet in the café and Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday were looking daggers at a tall man with a military haircut and a battered leather jacket over worn jeans. He turned around to study the newcomers.
“Are you Fiona Greene?” he asked.
Fiona nodded. “What’s going on?”
“I’m Sir Craig Mason from the Knight’s Templar. This shop is not safe. It cannot stay open.”
“What do you mean the shop isn’t safe?” Fiona felt bewildered. “We had surveyors and builders out and we passed all the regulations.”
“He is concerned because, without a paladin, we could be doing all sorts of damage.” Kadogan curled his lip.
“I see you’re here as well.” Sir Craig snapped at Steve. “I might have known you’d be mixed up in this.”
“It’s good to see you too.” Steve said smoothly. “How’s the leg? By the way, Lord Marius will be here at any moment.”
“It won’t make a difference.” Sir Craig said. “This shop has to shut.” He pointed an aggressive finger at Fiona. “I’m dealing with you. I’m not dealing with an elfen. I want this shop shut and all orders cancelled as soon as. It isn’t safe.”
“What do you mean that it isn’t safe?” Fiona wondered what she had missed. “We’ve passed every council check with flying colours.”
Mrs Tuesday snorted. “What he means is that people like me might find things too easy if we can get hold of so properly grown yarrow, for example, and we can’t have that!” There was an edge to her voice.
“All I know is that non normals from all over the UK are suddenly able to lay their hands on all sorts of stuff like, like…” He waved his hand around. “I mean, look at it all.”
“What you’re upset about is that you can’t see where we’re sending stuff.” Kadogan said. “And suddenly people may be able to light as many candles as they like. Besides, it’s not just the UK. I’ve had some enquiries from some Dutch kabouter who seem very pleasant.”
“You’re not helping,” said Mrs Tuesday.
“What about Dragon’s Blood.” Sir Craig demanded.
“What about it?” Fiona took her coat off and walked slowly to the café area. “We don’t stock it.”
“Well, what about mullein? You know what it does to boggarts?”
“I know what it does to boggarts,” Mrs Tuesday gave Sir Craig a knowing look. “A nice cup of mullein tea and most of us want to make love not war, right?” She watched with satisfaction as Sir Craig went scarlet. “Of course, it can disturb the neighbours.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.” Sir Craig looked wildly around him. “Look at the Tarot cards. What if they fall into the wrong hands?”
“Tarot cards?” Fiona slowly placed her coat over the back of a café chair and handed Louise her bag. She deliberately walked across the room and stood right in front of Sir Craig. “That’s a bad example. There is a WH Smith on every major high street and at all the big railway stations. They sell dozens of tarot cards on their website. They sell dozens of dozens. I checked. You can get them practically anywhere. You can even get Disney Tarot cards. They are not a problem.”
“You have a Tarot reader.” Sir Craig waved at the sign advertising Dave.
“It’s okay, he doesn’t believe in the Tarot.” Fiona said. “Besides, we always mention the small print.” She pointed to the slightly smaller printing on the sign. “For entertainment purposes only. And it’s legal. Come here.” Fiona stalked away from Sir Craig who followed, shooting angry glances at Kadogan and Ian. “See this rack of herbs here? And these shelves of bulk buy herbs here? All of them legal. I checked.”
“You don’t understand…”
“Come here.” Fiona grabbed Sir Craig’s arm and pulled him over to a display case of athames. “Look at these ceremonial knives. Every single one is sold according to the legal requirements in England. Not one is enchanted, you can check. And how about these?” Fiona dragged Sir Craig over to the display of plastic fairies. “I can make an argument against them but they are all perfectly legal.”
“Where is your representative from the Templars?” Sir Craig looked around. “Where is your voice of reason? I mean, you have a werewolf without a pack here. You know how that could go. No offense. But I heard about what the coach party saw.”
“They saw some dog training that had got out of hand.” Fiona walked back to the door and flipped the sign to ‘Open’. “This shop stays open until you give me some legal documents that say otherwise. And we are not giving a cut of profits to the Templars.”
“I never asked for money.” Sir Craig took a deep breath. “You have only known about elfen and werewolves and boggarts for a few months. Now I am not saying all are bad…”
“I should hope not.” Mrs Tuesday snapped. Ian glared from the corner as he took a phone call.
“… but you don’t have any idea of how bad things can get. I think you should shut down until we work out what could go wrong.” Sir Craig looked straight at Fiona. “I may not have the legal right to shut this shop, but I have the moral right to make sure that the normal population is protected. If you won’t listen to me…”
“We have to go.” Ian barked. “Dave just called. He thinks there’s some rogue werewolves down by the side of the allotments.”
Fiona watched Kadogan, Ian, Sir Craig and Sir Ewan race out of the door. She shared a worried look with Mrs Tuesday and Louise. “Is that as bad as it sounds?”
Mrs Tuesday’s face was set. “It could be very bad.”
Dave was trying not to panic. There was at least eight of them, and they were not nice people. At the moment five were in human shape wearing dirty tracksuit bottoms and stained hoodies. At least three looked like stray dogs with thinning fur and scabs along their backs. He was trapped against the car park wall, the allotments and all they could hide behind him and the girl that Dave had stepped in to protect was crying quietly next to him. She looked about eighteen and a bruise was starting to show on her face. “Keep calm.” Dave said quietly. “And when I say ‘run’ then you run like hell. But I’ve got some friends coming.”
The one who looked like the leader snarled. “You think your friends can help you? I don’t think so. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
“I might have an idea.” Dave looked back at the girl. “Is that necklace silver?”
“I don’t think you really know, meat.” The werewolves were pacing up and down. “We’re from your nightmares.”
Dave could feel his mind racing. He had to stall until Ian got here. Ian would at least have a clue what to do. “What do you mean, nightmares?” He glanced behind him. The girl looked pale.
“We’re the monsters that you don’t even talk about.” The pack were pacing faster. Some unknown instinct was telling Dave that they were about to pounce unless he stalled. “We’re scarier than the movies.”
“Which movies?” Dave tried to inch himself back a little.
The leader started to growl. One of the men behind him flowed out of his clothes and there was another scarred stray pacing up and down in front of them. The girl sobbed in fear. Dave wondered how he was going to manage against at least eight werewolves and what would happen if they bit him. He breathed a little easier as he heard running behind him. He glanced very briefly around and saw Ian with help. He had only risked taking his eyes of the lead werewolf for a heartbeat but it looked like Ian had help. Kadogan didn’t look like he’d be much help and he hadn’t had a chance to weigh up the others, but it was all numbers.
“Back off. Walk away. Don’t pick this fight or you will lose.” Dave put all his conviction into his voice, keeping it low pitched and even. Two more flowed into wolf shape.
“There’s no paladin here.” The leader said. “And Ragnar’s weak. I say it’s time to send a message that we’re not walking to heel like pretty puppies.”
“Latimer will kill you.” Dave risked a glance to his right. Ian was standing there, white faced and tense.
“Latimer will be too busy fighting Ragnar’s battles. Besides, you’re a stray. You should be running with us.”
“I’m not like you.” There was a shake in Ian’s voice and Dave felt a cold wave go through him. Something was going on with the werewolves and he didn’t have a clue. Ian looked like he was going to go crazy and that isn’t helpful when you’re outnumbered in a fight.
“There may not be a paladin but there are Templars.” Dave didn’t recognise Sir Craig but he recognised the authority.
“Templars aren’t the same.” The leader snarled. “Besides, I’ve got a prophecy. I can only be killed by a Paladin.”
“You can buy those prophecies on the internet.” Sir Craig said. “The Holy Water on the same sites is fake as well.” The leader flowed into a wolf shape and leapt.
Dave stepped forward and kicked hard at the leader. His blow landed right behind his right ear and the werewolf yelped as the momentum of the kick spun him round.
“Catch!” Sir Ewan yelled to Dave.
Dave’s reflexes caught the silver knuckle dusters. Kadogan wasn’t bothering with them, instead he had leapt forward and was wrestling with a werewolf that looked twice his size. The slim man in the business suit had just punched one of the werewolves. Dave noticed the glint of light on the silver knuckleduster and the hiss of burning and slipped the silver over his hand. It felt remarkably comforting.
‘I shouldn’t be able to do this,’ Dave thought. He was too aware of what was going on. Kadogan had just physically ripped the head off one of the werewolves. Somewhere in the back of his mind he could feel the shock at the blood spurting. Kadogan threw the head to the other side of the car park and grabbed the tail of one that was snapping at Sir Ewan’s face. Sir Craig was fending off two and as Dave kicked one hard in the ribs he was aware of Steve holding his hand up and chanting. There was a snarling, writhing heap in the corner. If Ian was fighting as a human it was the sort of fight that would either have to be stopped or someone’s brains would be scraped up from the pavement. The snarling and growling sounded as if it was from hell. The leader sprang suddenly at Dave’s face. He instinctively punched it hard between the eyes. The silver on his hand branded deep into the thin fur and Dave heard a snap that made his stomach heave.
“Ian, break now!” Steve said with immense and immediate authority. A sleek werewolf bounded out of the way and an arc of blue light ran from Steve’s upraised hand to the nearest werewolf and then on to the next and the next in an awful circuit as the light jumped back to Steve and there was a vicious crack followed by a moment of complete silence.
Dave staggered back. He wanted to be sick. He really wanted to be sick but he felt that if he let himself then he would never stop. In front of him were the naked bodies of eight men. They were pitiful. All of them were thin and battered looking with old bruises and scars. Many of them had the tell-tale track marks of drugs. Most of them had burns from being hit by silver. Dave tried not to look at the leader. There was a dark, burned pit on his forehead and blood was seeping out of his unseeing eyes.
Sir Craig took charge. “Thank you, Mr Adderson, nicely done. However we can’t stand around admiring the work. Someone will have already called the police. Sir Ewan, you call your contact and deal with that side of things. The burn marks are pretty obvious and it will be clear what’s happened. I’ll take this young lady home and make sure she’s safe. Then we will all meet to debrief at the White Hart.”