There were days when Fiona could almost fall in love with Kadogan. He could appear handsome enough for any movie, he had an impish sense of humour, normally well hidden, and his mercurial temperament made his company an exhilarating experience. His rainbow of moods could lighten the whole room and he was unfailingly courteous and considerate. Today was not one of those days.
"What do you mean, have I sorted out the catering?" Fiona glared at him.
Lord Marius was lounging against the case with the athames. "Fiona Greene, Kadogan did tell you that his prince was coming. Surely you must have guessed that you would need formal food and drink."
"I don't know what elfen want!" Fiona almost shouted. "How am I supposed to know what elfen want?"
"You have known me for one hundred days exactly." Kadogan pointed out helpfully. "And you know how I take my tea."
"And you know how I take my coffee." Lord Marius added. "Besides, anyone important visiting anything new expects tasteless sandwiches, cheap crisps and wine in paper cups. I thought it was a respected rule."
Fiona spun around as the door opened. It was Louise, shaking out her umbrella as she came in. "I thought I'd come in a bit early and set up the refreshments." She said. "And the floor will need a lot of mopping if this carries on, though it's supposed to be dry later."
"The rain will stop in half an hour." Kadogan said.
"It will stop in thirty five minutes." Lord Marius said firmly. The elfen glanced at each other and shrugged.
"I didn't arrange catering." Fiona felt panic falling on her like a tidal wave. "I never thought to arrange catering."
Kadogan ran a precise hand over a display of astrological bookmarks and carefully straightened up some Leos. "There is no urgency. Lord Ragnar will not attend for another three hours, there is a supermarket very close, I will telephone Dave to come early to assist us and you, he and Louise can go and pick up food. We have cups, plates and tea and coffee anyway, it is too early to offer wine in paper cups, and while it would be inadvisable to use up all our stock of snacks we have resources in our cellar. We even have the microwave to heat anything that you think should be heated."
Fiona stared at him. This was the same person who had completely lost all reason over a missing candle. "But what do we get?"
Kadogan shrugged casually. "Just the usual stuff. I believe most occasions like this have sausage rolls."
Lord Marius pulled a face. "It's dreadful, isn't it, the things that are presented at these occasions. There should also be egg sandwiches."
Kadogan nodded. "I don't know anyone who likes egg sandwiches, but they still turn up."
"I know what to get." Louise said confidently. "How many are coming?"
Kadogan thought for a moment. "A dozen, at least."
"And what budget?" Louise asked.
"Generous." Kadogan looked pointedly at Fiona. "Fiona, your economy has been most helpful at times, but this is not a time to stint."
"How do you know so much about the elfen?" Fiona asked as she drove her and Louise to the supermarket. "And how do you stay so calm?"
Louise looked down. "I've been around them a lot." She said quietly. "It's a bit crazy, but Kadogan has always been kind."
"But how did you meet them?" Fiona asked. She sensed the discomfort in Louise. "It's none of my business really. Sorry. I'm just glad that you know what we are buying."
Louise shook her head. "It's okay, it's just a long story that's a bit messy. My mum made some mistakes when she was a teenager. I was one of them. So were the drugs. No-one is sure who my father is. I was about to be taken in by social services when Kadogan turned up. He said he owed my great grandfather a favour, so he took me to live with my grandma and kept an eye on me. He's been really kind." Louise looked hard at Fiona. "The elfen can come across as cold or strange, but Kadogan is really, really kind. He didn't have to do all he has done, and getting me working with you has been a massive help."
Fiona felt the responsibility as she swung her car into the supermarket car park. It was not just her future and Kadogan's money but also the job for Louise and the opportunities for Dave. She took a deep breath. She would be meeting a prince in two hours forty five minutes as well so she had better get moving.
"Are you sure about this?" Fiona asked Louise as she stood back to look at the neatly arranged tables.
"Honestly, wait and see." Louise said confidently as she started stacking the cups. "Could you get some extra sugar out from the back while I sort out these. All the elfen seem to have a sweet tooth."
"I'll be upstairs if anyone needs me." Dave said firmly. He looked at the tables. "It does look very..." He searched for a polite description. "It looks very nice."
Fiona frowned at his back as he escaped upstairs and then called to Kadogan as she went to get the extra sugar from the cellar. "Why don't you have a look at the food? Louise has laid it out and it looks..." She couldn't think of a good word to say.
Kadogan stuck his head out of the back room. "What does it look like?" He asked carefully.
"Have a look. I'm just getting the sugar."
Fiona took her time pulling out the huge bag of sugar and lugging it up the steps. At the top she could hear Kadogan's delighted voice. "You have spray cream!" There was the distinctive hiss of a squirt of cream and cackles of laughter from Kadogan and Lord Marius. "That is remarkable, Louise, I would never consider spray cream."
"There are no sausage rolls." Lord Marius commented as Fiona pulled the sugar up and staggered over to the counter. "This will be a reception that will be talked about - a normal reception that is not normal!"
Fiona dumped the sugar on to the counter and looked in disbelief at Louise who shrugged. The four tables were draped with plain white table cloths and that was the only thing that was plain about it. Edible glitter and rice paper confetti covered everything. The cooked chicken legs glinted blue, the olives sparkled green and the incredibly expensive, out of season strawberries were liberally scattered with gold. Not only were a dozen spray cream aerosols arranged on the table but there were half a dozen small plates just with spray cream artistically sprayed on and scattered with pink edible confetti. More edible glitter in pink and red was scattered over the tiny meringues and mini gingerbread biscuits. Edible gold spray adorned carrot sticks, cucumber chunks and heaped plates of ribs and sausages. Nearby, in the ice cream counter, were tiny dishes filled with frozen blueberries sprinkled with multicoloured sugar strands. "I didn't know half of this stuff existed." Fiona said blankly.
"And I didn't know that you existed."
Fiona jumped and turned round shakily. "Hello?" She said hesitantly.
Louise frowned. "Fiona, this is Sir Ewan. He's the head of the local Knights Templar."
"I'm pleased to meet you." Fiona politely held out her hand.
Sir Ewan's hand was hard and warm. She looked up into the cool, calculating eyes and took a breath. He was good looking in a hard way, with chiselled lips and high cheekbones. He towered over her and, while he was not heavily muscled, Fiona could feel the balanced strength in him. "I'm Sir Ewan Blaine. I'm filling in until we have an active paladin. We should talk."
Kadogan appeared suddenly behind Fiona. "Perhaps now is not the appropriate time, Sir Ewan Blaine. After all, Lord Ragnar will be with us before we know it. And there are other guests."
There was a tense moment as Sir Ewan locked eyes with Kadogan. Then he gave a curt nod. "I'll call in tomorrow at 8.30am." He smiled thinly at Fiona. "I'll buy you breakfast."
"And I know I can reassure Fiona Greene that you mean her no harm." There was an edge to Kadogan's voice.
"Of course I mean her no harm. I also need to make sure that you don't either." He bowed slightly to Fiona. "My compliments on the buffet. The elfen will love it."
Kadogan watched him move over to Lord Marius. "Sir Ewan is a good man, but has no trust for the non normals. It is completely understandable, but tiresome at parties. Let me introduce you to Steve Adderson. He is a merchant and we may be able to do considerable business with them."
Fiona found Steve Adderson a welcome relief. He smiled at her. "It's crazy dealing with the elfen, but it's fun as well. I'm sort of, well, a pedlar." He shrugged. "Or a courier. I'm not sure. I suppose I'm a glorified errand boy. I have a car full of requests for stuff from here - but I'm to check them first." Steve grinned. "You are an unknown quantity. I take letters and parcels around the country that aren't safe to hand over to a normal post office, I buy and sell on their behalf and generally keep myself busy." He smiled. "We could do a lot of business."
"Perhaps we should talk about that." Fiona was already getting a sense of the interest that was stirring in the non normal world. "When would be a good time?"
Lord Marius appeared suddenly between them. "Fiona Greene, you should know that Steve Adderson's former girlfriend abandoned him due to his imp. Steve Adderson, you should know that Fiona Greene's boyfriend abandoned her most callously just before Christmas. Perhaps you should console each other." He said helpfully. "Ah, that will be Lord Ragnar attending now, and he is accompanied by his wife. That will be splendid."
Fiona looked at Steve in blank confusion. "An imp?"
"It's a long story." Steve said quickly. "I'll be back in York next Tuesday. I'll call and we can meet up. You had better greet Lord Ragnar because it's risky keeping a Prince waiting."