Monday, 9 January 2017

Troubled News

   Image from WikiCommons, taken by Richard Webb and used under the Creative Commons Agreement

Fiona was waiting at the door when Sir Ewan knocked at 8am precisely.  He took a quick look round and shrugged.  “I see the brownies have already been at work.”
“They do an amazing job.” Fiona said as she watched him walk in.  “There was glitter everywhere but they seem to have got rid of every last twinkle.”
Sir Ewan grunted and stood in the centre of the shop, looking round at the now neat and orderly store.  “It looks like it was a success yesterday.  There’s gaps in the shelves.”
“Yes, it was successful.” Fiona gestured towards the café.  “Why don’t I make us something to eat?  I do an awesome bacon butty.”
“That would be great.”  Sir Ewan pulled out a chair in the immaculate café area and sat down.  “And tea?”
“Of course.  How do you like it?” Fiona had already warmed up the grill and boiler.  The rashers sizzled as they hit the hotplate.
“Milk, no sugar, strong.” Sir Ewan leant back in the plain dining chair and seemed to sag a little.  Fiona watched him covertly as she pulled together two bacon sandwiches and a large pot of tea.  Today was a day for English Breakfast tea, she decided as she put the family sized pot on the table together with two mugs and a jug of milk.  “Help yourself.”
She quickly buttered the bread and glanced back over her shoulder.  He looked paler than he had yesterday when she first met him and his eyes were shadowed.  It looked like he had been up all night.  He pulled out his phone and put it on the table but he didn’t look at.  Instead he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease tension.  Fiona put sauce bottles on the table and went back to turn the bacon.  Sir Ewan slowly pulled one of the mugs towards him then carefully pulled over the milk jug and tipped a few drops of milk into the mug.  Fiona pressed the bacon down on the grill and heard it hiss as Sir Ewan paused before lifting the teapot and carefully pouring in the strong brew. 
“Here we are.” Fiona put the stack of bacon butties in front of him and a smaller plate in front of herself.  “You look like you need the fuel.”
Sir Ewan nodded and took a large bite.  He took his time, savouring the fresh sandwich before taking a mouthful of tea.  He sighed.  “I’ve been up all night.  Lots of people have lots of questions.”
“If you need to postpone this talk…” Fiona began.
Sir Ewan shook his head.  “You should have had this talk months ago, when you first met Kadogan.  Callum was already in a coma, and somehow you got left off the ‘To Do’ list.  I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Fiona said and took a small sip of tea.
Sir Ewan shook his head. “It isn’t, but we are where we are.  How much do you know?”
Fiona thought for a moment.  “I know that Kadogan is an elfen, what we would call an elf or a fairy, and that while he looks like a gorgeous businessman he is actually a small creature, all skin and bones.”  Fiona tried to think of what she had learned over the last three months.  “The electricians were goblins, and they looked it, but they did a good job.”  She thought some more.  “The brownies don’t look like that, I mean…” Fiona waved a hand to try and form her thoughts.  “The brownies use a glamour like the elfen but underneath aren’t quite human looking.  Kieran Latimer is in charge of the werewolves and runs a couple of guest houses in Fulford and has a load of student digs.” Fiona took another sip of tea.  “There’s a vampire called Rey Baxter and an exorcist got rid of a ghost from the storecupboard.  Elfen have the tackiest taste in food and a werewolf called Ian Tait who isn’t part of a pack is coming to stay with us.”  Fiona looked into Sir Ewan’s tired brown eyes and shook her head.  “I think I’ve left out some stuff.”
“Hang on, Ian Tait is coming here?” Sir Ewan almost visibly sagged before pulling himself back up.  “Did Kadogan explain what had happened?
“It was a bit confusing.” Fiona admitted.
“Ian Tait got into a power struggle with the leader of the werewolf pack based near Halifax.  I know them, they’re a good bunch, but Ian was just a bit too closely matched to Mike to make for peace.  What Ian should have done is go to another pack.  Plenty would have welcomed him.  He’s a qualified plumber and he’s also got quite an insight into magic, which is unusual for a werewolf.  Instead he got carried away and tried to summon a demon.  It went really badly wrong.  You’ve met Darren King.  He’s the one that tipped me off that you existed.  He had a real fight with the demon and it was touch and go for a while.  In the old days Ian would have been ripped to pieces by the pack.  Now it’s just exile.”
Fiona felt a shiver go through her.  Ian sounded incredibly dangerous.  “Do you think we need to worry here?” She asked.  “I mean, how will I know if he summons another demon?”
“It’s not a demon you need to worry about.” Sir Ewan ran a weary hand over his face.  “Werewolves really need a pack.  I don’t even begin to understand them, but they flourish in a pack.  A good leader will keep them sharp, keep order and usually help out the local paladin.  There’s something very solid and reliable about a well run werewolf pack.  A werewolf on his own is a different thing.  Most werewolves would do anything rather than lose their place in the pack.  Those that are outsiders seem to go a little crazy.  The packs usually deal with what they call strays themselves.  Sometimes a local paladin gets called in.  Steps are usually taken before someone gets killed but I’ve known it be a very close call.  Does Kieran know?”
Fiona nodded.  She carefully cut her bacon sandwich into halves and then quarters.  She didn’t feel so hungry now.  “I don’t think he’s happy about it.  Lord Ragnar knows as well.”
“I’m too tired for this.” Sir Ewan took a large bite of the bacon butty and chewed.  “Okay, do not let yourself be alone with Ian Tait, be aware of where he is at all times and if he seems to be getting moody then you need to let Kadogan and me know as soon as possible.  Kadogan has got the softest heart of any elfen I’ve ever met but he’ll rip the head off Ian Tait without hesitation if he has to.”  Sir Ewan smiled faintly.  “Just because Kadogan is notoriously soft hearted doesn’t mean he isn’t as psychotically lunatic as the rest of the elfen.  He’s just a nice psychotic lunatic.”
“They’ve been okay with me.” Fiona said cautiously as she watched Sir Ewan finish his first bacon sandwich and pick up the next. 
“That’s because Kadogan has influence and likes you, they like you and you’re useful with the shop.  You might like to speak to Steve Adderson, he’s been trading with the elfen for a while now and has survived.”
“I think Lord Marius wants me to date Steve.” Fiona said.  “Apparently Steve broke up with his last girlfriend.”
Sir Ewan just stared at Fiona as he finished a large mouthful.  He shook his head.  “You’re on your own with that one.” He said.  “I’ve never seen an elfen trying to set someone up, but if I were you I’d give in now.  They’re not going to give up on the idea.”  He took another mouthful of tea.  “I’m sorry, I’m really too tired.  Kadogan can fill you in on boggarts, fetches, wights and all the other miscellaneous you’re likely to deal with.  Two things before I go.  The last paladin died.  He was a good man.” A shadow passed over Sir Ewan’s face.  “I miss him.”  He shook himself.  “I don’t have time to miss him.  We need a paladin and I know one’s out there somewhere, already chosen somehow by some sort of force or spirit, we don’t know how.  The next paladin might be a Templar, though if it is, it isn’t one of the York ones, we’ve checked.  It might be someone like you, a normal on the edges of non normal society.” Sir Ewan sighed.  “Usually it’s someone who doesn’t believe in vampires or werewolves and I’ll have to have this talk again.  They’re usually, but not always, men, and usually people in good condition, people who have some experience in defending themselves against violence – police, army, that sort of thing.  Because though most of the time everything runs smoothly, sometimes a paladin is out there with the Templars facing down a rogue werewolf or a vampire that’s been feeding where it shouldn’t or a boggart that’s trying to tear the world apart from the fun of it and suddenly you need to stop someone or something killing you.”  Sir Ewan took another large bite and let Fiona take in the information.  “Watch out for someone with a sword tattoo, especially one that they don’t remember getting.  Whoever is the new paladin will be off guard and vulnerable.”
There was a moment of silence as Fiona nibbled on a corner of her bacon butty and took a sip of tea.  The shop seemed a lot less safe and Fiona wondered what she had signed up for.  She swallowed nervously.  It was too late to turn back. 
“We really need the paladin to get found and quickly.” Sir Ewan worked his neck.  “At the moment York’s non normals are ruled by Lord Ragnar.”
Fiona nodded.  “I’ve met him.  He seemed very nice.”
“From what I heard the streets of York ran with blood when he took over.” Sir Ewan said dryly.  “I’ve even been told the date, 867 when the Vikings re-took York and Lord Ragnar made the most of the disruption.  All I know is that Lady Freydis’ father, Albinus, was the power behind the throne.  It was his influence got Lord Ragnar his power and kept him in charge.  No-one wanted to deal with that psychotic monster.  The trouble is, he died during some trouble just outside Luton a few years back.  Suddenly there’s no power behind the throne, no-one’s pulling Lord Ragnar’s strings and no-one knows what’s going on.  Kadogan is one of Ragnar’s closest allies so you could get caught up in some nasty infighting.  We may not be able to help you.”  Sir Ewan drained the last of his tea.  “I can recommend some self defense classes.  Oh, and you should start going to church.  Most people find it helps.  I think Kadogan goes to St Agnes.  Thanks for the breakfast.”

Steve Adderson took a deep breath.  It was a lovely, crisp spring day but the refreshing air didn’t blow away his sense of unease.  He looked at Lord Ragnar who was leaning on the bridge parapet and looking down to the foamy river beneath.  Kadogan was looking along the road to the west at the Yorkshire Dales stretching into the distance.  The hills were empty.  Steve listened but all he could hear over the chatter of the stream was birdsong and a few distant sheep.  They were a long way from the roads.  They should be undisturbed. 
“Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” Steve asked Lord Ragnar.  The elfen nodded.  Steve looked at Kadogan who gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head.  Steve unzipped his heavy sportsbag and started pulling out his equipment.  It was a perfect day.  The breeze was light and yesterday’s rain had filled the river.  He snapped together the portable easel, carefully weighting the frame and placing stones around the feet to keep it stable.  Then came the mirror.  It was heavy for its size and Steve took his time making sure that the easel was now perfectly balanced with the mirror, binding it in place with orange thread.  He set the deep brass braziers with care at either end of the bridge.  The charcoal caught quickly and the heavy incense was soon smoking.  Then he pulled out the heavy rope to mark the circle.
“Do you honestly believe that you will break through elfen magical wards?” Lord Ragnar asked as he watched Steve laying out the rope to cover most of the centre of the bridge.
“Nothing is guaranteed.” Steve said.  He checked the rope then pulled out an ornate hurricane lantern and, looking around, put it in the east.  Then he rummaged for the orange candle.  It was well wrapped but Steve double checked it before he placed it in the lantern and lit it.  He muttered a few words and the flame gently leaned towards the north.  Steve carefully moved the lantern a few feet, watching the flame.  It wavered, leant a little to the west and then settled upright.  Steve nodded to himself and carefully wedged the lantern in place with small stones. “Nothing may happen.  I may get nothing.  But if anything can get through, this will.  It’s the place.  Feel the energy.  We are between sky and water, between fire…” Steve gestured at the smoking brazier, “and earth.” He gestured to the bank rising up on the other side of the bridge.  “We are between the elements. As we are so undefined we have a loose tile, a loophole, a possible chink that we may be able to use.  Can you both come inside the circle please.”
Lord Ragnar and Kadogan stepped through the small gap Steve had left in the rope and took their positions next to the candle and opposite the mirror.  They watched with interest as Steve closed the rope circle and then sprinkled salt around the perimeter.  Steve looked at Lord Ragnar.  “Do you have it?”
Lord Ragnar pulled out a small crystal box and placed it in front of the candle.  He laid his hand flat over it and muttered a few words before straightening up.  “We are ready to start, Steve Adderson.”
The two elfen watched as Steve worked.  They stayed impassive as they saw Steve build up an impressive wall of protection before stalking towards the mirror, but for the first time in centuries both elfen were truly scared.  It wasn’t normal for someone like Steve to use magic like this.  There was an authority in him that demanded that forces obey him and he conjured power in a way they had never seen.
Elfen are not natural magicians or sorcerors.  They can affect weather and they play with people’s minds given half a chance, but they don’t have the sort of skills to see what is happening inside magical protection several miles away.  They weren’t familiar with the spells Steve was using and that was even more unnerving.  Steve seemed to have found whole strata of new magic and the results were impressive. 
The elfen may not be able to use these spells, but they could see the currents of magic and at least some of their effects.  They could see the wall of protection that was a hazy circle around them.  Random flickers of natural magic glinted off the outside of the circle as they sparked off Steve’s protection.  Then they saw the currents of magic, threads and traces in the air, like after images from fireworks.  Streams of blue were being spun from Steve’s hands and wound up like a skein of energy.  He paused and gathered his strength.  Then he started unwinding the thread and sending it through the mirror.  The mirror went black. 
It took all of Lord Ragnar’s strength to hold his poise.  Kadogan snatched in a deep breath.  Then they watched the image slowing forming.  At first it was dull blur, but slowly the image came into focus.  Kadogan averted his gaze but Lord Ragnar swore.  Just for an instant his glamour slipped and he was once again the raging berserker that had shed so much blood on the streets of York.  Then he was his normal self, self-consciously straightening the waxed jacket he was wearing over his jeans and designer sweater.
“I congratulate you.” Lord Ragnar bowed formally to Steve.  “It is a feat of legend to break through the magical defence of an elfen.  You recorded it?” Steve nodded.
“What are you going to do with the recording?” Kadogan asked, his eyes still averted from the mirror.
“A recording of my wife sinning with her lover?  I shall merely use it in divorce.” Lord Ragnar turned to Steve.  “Thank you.  I owe you a large favour that will not easily be repaid.  Now I need to return to York.  There is much to do.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the more. I have both your other works in this "world", and thoroughly enjoy your writing. Still more, please

    ReplyDelete