Getting Ready to Open
Kadogan glared at the head of the brownies. "What ever happened to being paid with a saucer of milk?" He demanded.
"It's the going rate, your lordship." Gavin Brown didn't look apologetic. "£100 per week for the shop, £100 per week for the garden, and you get a full Brownie job - no messing, no corners cut, just good service. And that's preferential rate for elfen, your lordship. I'd charge double for a standard job."
"£200 per week for something you love doing?" Kadogan paced in front of the calm Gavin. "It's outrageous. And the garden shouldn't take that much. I'll offer £150 per week and a one off payment for setting up the garden on top of the money for plants. Say... £200."
Gavin shook his head. "Sorry, your lordship, but we've cut the price to the bone, we always do for your kin. By rights I should be charging a lot more, it's pennies per hour really, and don't forget that the garden also includes maintaining the car park."
"I have looked into the newspaper." Kadogan said importantly. "And for a cleaner from the newspaper I would pay a mere £10 per hour - or even less."
Gavin shook his head sadly. "Think of the size of this place." He said. "It would take a normal at least 10 hours with the size of this place, that's just doing a normal standard job. Now you are getting a brownie standard job for a fraction of what it should cost. That's a very good deal. We charge a lot more for the solicitors in town, you know, they pay..." Gavin paused. "It would be unprofessional for me to mention what they pay and they would bite my hand off for a deal like this - and I don't cover their gardening."
Kadogan continued to pace around the calm brownie. Fiona watched. She was the token normal person in the room. She was still getting to grips with the idea that brownies existed. Apparently they looked very different without the glamour they wore habitually around the normal world. Gavin looked like a stocky, middle aged manager who had built a business where you worked with your hands by starting at the bottom and knowing the work inside out. Kadogan, an elfen who were unpredictable at the best of times, was wearing a glamour of a business man in his thirties, currently in jeans with his sleeves rolled up but definitely a slim, focused business man who was currently coming second in a negotiation.
Gavin broke the ice. "Of course, the patronage of one such as yourself is of value." He said thoughtfully. "That has to be worth perhaps another look at the pricing."
"Which solicitors exactly do you work for?" Kadogan asked suspiciously.
"Professional courtesy, I don't discuss them with you and I don't discuss you with them, but I will say that they are very highly thought of. We only deal with the better class of clients."
Fiona watched Kadogan. Emotions flitted across his face. Of course he loved the appeal to his vanity, but which way were the brownies going to stitch him up? "My patronage will of course be worth something." Kadogan said loftily. "I will of course recommend you to any who ask."
"Actually I was thinking something a bit more concrete than that." Gavin stayed calm and unmoved. "Perhaps mutually beneficial. Think about it, how many local people are likely to come here? Quite a few - I daresay it will become quite a hub."
Kadogan waved a hand at Fiona. "My associate is the business person for the normals." He said dismissively. "And while I anticipate a certain amount of local traffic from the non normals I would not go so far as to say a hub..." He waited for Gavin to contradict him.
"I think your lordship will be pleasantly surprised at the volume of traffic. After all, it is hard to get hold of some of this stuff locally, and a lot of my friends prefer to see what they are dealing with rather than order on the internet. We can go on recommendations but it isn't the same thing. You are offering a real service to the local non normal community." Gavin paused to see how much of this was getting through.
"And there will be a cafe, with an assortment of food and drink." Kadogan said airily.
"A good place to meet in neutral surroundings." Gavin nodded.
"So this deal, what do you have in mind?" Kadogan asked, pausing in front of Gavin and steepling his slender fingers in front of his face.
"We do not charge you for the plants, which is a very good deal, and in return we have a discreet sign saying that all plants are provided by Gavin Brown and Sons, Established, and available at our nursery."
Kadogan peered at him, trying to work out the catch. "So I still pay £200 per week..."
"Which in itself is an excellent deal." Gavin interjected.
"... but I don't have to pay for the plants, and you put a sign up. How much were you asking for the plants again?"
"£500 every three months, so that is a considerable saving." Gavin said respectfully. "Of course we will be taking a small loss but the advertising is worth it, given the select clientele that will be visiting the establishment."
Kadogan frowned. "You won't just palm me off with some dead daisies and some plastic leaves, will you?"
Gavin lost the calm business man facade and looked genuinely hurt. "There are two reasons why that would never happen." He said sharply. "Not only would it be pretty poor advertising but it would hurt my professional pride. We are brownies. We do a good job, proper cleaning, nice gardens, no corners cut. I am not letting anything slipshod on my patch!"
Kadogan waved an apologetic hand. "I am sorry, Brownie Gavin Brown, I wasn't thinking. So, £200 per week plus the plants with advertising. I think that will be a very satisfactory arrangement."
Fiona watched them shake hands. So that was one more thing off the list. After Kadogan had seen the brownie out she looked at him warily. "It's a really good deal with the cleaning, you know." She said. "There are lots of decorative bits that will gather dust. It will take time."
Kadogan grunted. "They'll do half of it by magic anyway." He grumbled. "And I'm not sure about the decorations in here."
Fiona sighed inwardly. Kadogan was an immortal creature, an elfen, who was almost human. He didn't quite get what shops were about. "The decorations are fine." She said patiently.
"There's a lot of pink." Kadogan continued prowling. "And I do not like the 'Fairy Corner'. People will talk."
"The normals that come in here will expect something like that." Fiona looked at the display of pastel coloured china fairies. She quite liked how sweet they looked, although now she knew that they were absolutely nothing at all like the local elfen. "We can't go too dark and sinister."
Kadogan glared at the miniature doors and flowery prints. "It's disrespectful." He grumbled. "And I am not sure about some of that lot either." He waved his hand over to a large wall full of books.
"We are going to be serving two very different types of customers." Fiona reminded him. "Some are non normals - vampires, werewolves, boggarts and those who are aware of them. They will be interested in our wide ranging display of herbs, tools and supplies." She waved her hand over at the businesslike display under the brighter lighting. "And then there will be tourists, those who think they know what is going on and those who want a good deal the mystical stuff so that they can look mystic without actually putting the effort in. And they will like the fairies."
"If you are sure." Kadogan was still smarting after the negotiations with the brownies. "And the coffee shop will help draw people in."
"I imagine that we will get a lot of overspill at peak times when tourists are looking for a place to get a reasonably priced coffee anywhere there is a seat. York is a tourist town." Fiona reminded him.
"Hmm." Kadogan peered closer at the resin models. He pointed to a particularly supercilious figure. "I think I may have once been married to that."
"Why don't you check the candles while I start unpacking the rest of the herbs?" Fiona suggested. "Two days until opening."
"I shall indeed check the candles in the back room and ensure that the number of candles is comparable to the invoice. I am sure you can manage the herbs." Kadogan stalked off.
Fiona picked up the box from the counter and started to unload the wormwood onto the display. She had long since learned that it was no good giving Kadogan mundane work, he just didn't seem to be able to do something like dusting or unpacking stock. However she found that he enjoyed counting the candles so at least he was out of her hair. And to be fair, there wasn't much more to do, she had left the herbs to the last minute so that they would be fresh for longer. She had been running on adrenaline for far too long. She paused and counted the days. She stopped for a minute and then counted again. When the shop opened it would be exactly one hundred days since she literally had run into Kadogan. She filled up the display on autopilot. How could it have only been one hundred days. Because that was just about three months, and she had been so full of fury and frustration that she had hurled herself at this whole business until all of a sudden she was here, in front of a stand of herbs, acacia buds to yarrow, about to open a shop.
Fiona could remember the day that they had met. It had been a perfect storm of a day. She had woken up to a text from her boyfriend dumping her. This had left her incandescent. Not only had he begged her six months earlier not to go with the rest of her family to Australia but to stay with him because they had something special but he had waited until the week after she had cleaned out her bank account paying for his birthday before dumping her. Then her stupid, incompetent, intermittent bully of a boss had tore a strip off her for something he had done. She had been seething all day. This was followed by the commute from hell as the train from her work in Leeds to her home in York had been delayed, delayed again and then cancelled so that the next train had been a heaving mass of frustrated workers and damp Christmas shoppers trying to get home and she had been too late to pick up her card making magazine from the newsagents as they would be shut before she even got to the station. She had been hanging on to the anticipation of that magazine all day and it was the last straw. So when she came out of York station and saw some complete idiot suddenly freeze in the middle of the road seemingly mesmerised by the Christmas lights while a huge lorry bore down on him, horn blaring some rush of adrenalin had sent her sprinting across the road and cannoning into him, knocking him out of the path of the lorry and both of them landing on the pavement on the other side.
Fiona remembered how thin he felt, like some bag of twigs, but he had looked okay, a youngish man with short hair, hazel eyes and a spaced out expression. As she tried to gather her wits his eyes had become focused on her. For a few moments she had become lost in his gaze, those mysterious, bewitching hazel eyes and the world seemed to slide away. Then a woman stepping over them had tutted and broken the spell.
"I am Kadogan," he had said as he helped her to her feet, "And you have saved my life. I must repay you. But first, let me buy you coffee."
And that had been the start of it. She had rescued an elfen. One of the creatures that the fairytales had been based on. He was stronger than he looked, faster than he looked - at least at the moment. Elfen hid their true appearance under what Kadogan called a glamour, so he was a skinny bag of bones under the tall, sophisticated glamour with the devilish smile. As he was an older elfen he was more vulnerable than many to the flashing lights that multiplied at Christmas. All elfen had a susceptibility to flashing lights or over rhythmic music. They also fed on emotions so a nightclub was a perfect predator trap, lots of drunken emotions to tempt the elfen's appetite but lots of flashing lights and rhythmic music to lull them into a catatonic trance. Apparently specially employed goblins would haunt nightclubs and pull out any elfen out that had succumbed to the stimulus. Fiona thought that explained a lot about some of the men she had met in nightclubs. It also explained why Kadogan had suddenly frozen in such a dangerous place. He had been caught by the lights.
Fiona's reverie was broken by an imperious knock on the door. As she unbolted it she recognised the silhouette through the glass and smiled as she opened up. "Lord Marius, it is good to see you." She said. "Would you like some coffee?"
Lord Marius was another elfen. Fiona wasn't exactly sure of his status. He was respected and treated with deference by Kadogan, which was unusual, but he wasn't a Prince. Nor did he seem to stay mainly in one place like the rest of the elfen. Kadogan referred to him as a Postman, but Fiona thought that there was more to it than that. Lord Marius carried letters, parcels and gossip from one end of the country to the other and he had a lot of influence. Kadogan had tried to impress Fiona with the need to keep Lord Marius happy. Fiona didn't care. She liked Lord Marius, and it was always fun to watch him and Kadogan gossiping together.
Lord Marius removed his motorcycle helmet and smiled back at Fiona. He was wearing his usual glamour of a tall, lean, dark haired man with vivid green eyes. "I would indeed enjoy a coffee - you do such wonderful coffees."
"I have a new one for you to try - French Vanilla." Fiona went into the back room and beckoned Lord Marius to follow. "I know you are an expert when it comes to coffee."
Lord Marius looked around him as he pushed a large bundle of white sage off a chair and sat down. "I like to think I can enjoy coffee. You aren't as organised in here as you are in the shop itself." He said.
Fiona nodded. "We open in two days. We need to get the front sorted out first, and then we can sort out the back as and when we have time." She flicked on the kettle and spooned a teaspoon of instant French Vanilla coffee into a large china mug for Lord Marius and added five sugars. She put an Earl Grey Teabag into another large china mug for Kadogan and added three sugars to that. Then she paused and looked at her teas. Today was definitely a Russian Caravan tea day. She put her speciality teabag into her own mug. "Kadogan is checking the candles. We stock a wide range of candles and I managed to get a very good deal on some of the pillar ones."
"And in opening this shop with you he is repaying your risk in saving his life by giving you your heart's desire." Lord Marius said. "And I suspect it may do well. Though these are difficult times. I have been talking about nothing else for weeks."
Fiona smiled. "That is kind of you." She said, pouring the water into the mugs.
"Not at all. Everyone is so curious. A normal and an elfen working together in a mercantile endeavour - that has not been seen for centuries. At least not successfully. And Laurentius of Aldgate would like a copy of your catalogue."
"What!?" Kadogan appeared, holding a yellow candle and looked unnerved. "Prince Laurentius wishes a copy of our catalogue?"
"I'll be leaving York about teatime." Lord Marius said airily. "I am going that way, down to Rochester. I could drop one in, if you like."
Kadogan looked at Fiona, panicking. "We need to one specially printed."
Fiona stared. "We can't get a special edition printed by teatime, it's not much before lunch now. What's wrong with the catalogues, anyway? They're lovely quality."
"A special cover, then. We need to get a special cover. Where can we get a special cover, Fiona Ellen Greene?"
"What sort of special cover?"
"A princely one, an elaborate one, one that is personal to him." Kadogan waved his hands vaguely.
"That sounds extremely appropriate." Lord Marius said, sipping his coffee. "This coffee is marvellous. Thank you, Fiona, for making it for me."
Fiona looked blankly between the two of them. "Lord Marius, I am glad you like the coffee. Kadogan, where do you think we can get a personalised cover in less than four hours?"
Kadogan looked even more flustered. "Fiona Ellen Greene, you have made wonderful cards, can you not make one that would be a lovely cover for a prince, something regal, something not too modern - something that flatters him!"
Fiona took a small sip of her Russian Caravan tea and savoured the full taste for a few seconds. "I'll make a cover. But I won't be able to manage to do anything more today, not if I am working on that. You'll have to unpack the last of the stock."
"Anything!" Kadogan said.
"What's his full title, his name, and his favourite colour?" Fiona put down her tea with purpose. She had a lot of her card making kit here as she had had to kill time waiting for the builders and deliveries.
"I'll write it all down." Kadogan rushed to get the notepad that Fiona kept putting back next to the phone.
Fiona started going through her card stock and pulling out her embossing tools. "This had better be worth it."
By the time Lord Marius came back to pick up the customised catalogue Fiona felt almost rigid with stress. Kadogan had been pacing around as she worked the silver Dutch metal into some elegant frames and had carefully written 'Laurentius, Princeps' on the cover. She felt a little soothed by Lord Marius' reaction.
"I imagine you will get requests from other Princes." Lord Marius said as he held the finished article delicately between his fingertips. "They are all intrigued. I trust you will be supplying stock suitable for a prince?"
"Of course," Kadogan said, a little bit too quickly.
"I look forward to delivering the bespoke catalogues." Lord Marius said smoothly, finishing his coffee as he watched Fiona neatly attach the new catalogue cover.
"What exactly are Princes?" Fiona asked, carefully positioning some double sided tape.
"They are Important and Rich." Kadogan said, also intrigued as Fiona assembled the cover.
"They are the rulers of the non normals within their domain." Lord Marius said. Some govern small domains, but have great influence. Lord Laurentius has been in Aldgate since it was Londinium, ruled throughout the skirmishes between the kings of Wessex and Mercia and the East Saxons. He is perhaps the most influential, although his domain is not wide. Now up in the sparse hills and islands of Scotland Lord Magnus Redbeard rules from Shetland across to the Great Glen and down the West coast as far as Stranraer. He came across with the Northmen and communicates little with the other princes. Did you know that the Shetland islands are nearer to Bergen than Edinburgh? It shows in Lord Magnus. Perhaps I have time for one more of those excellent coffees."
Kadogan refilled the kettle and flicked it on. "Most princes are powerful elfen." He said, counting out five sugars. "And in most domains there is a paladin for every prince." He shrugged. "There are sometimes more, in places like Chelmsford, sometimes just one, as in York."
"There is a prince in York?" Fiona asked, looking up from her folding tool.
"I will be introducing you once the shop is open." Kadogan looked at the assorted jars and packets. "Which one of these is French Vanilla?"
"You didn't tell me about a prince." Fiona said, sliding the finished catalogue into the custom made parchment envelope embossed with 'Laurentius, Princeps' across the front in silver letters. "Or about paladins. What are paladins?"
"Paladins are mortals, normals, people like yourself, whose duty it is to protect the normal population from the non normal. In an ideal world they work with the prince." Lord Marius took the coffee from Kadogan with a genuine smile. "The coffee here is delightful."
"So what about the paladin in York?" Fiona carefully lit the sealing wax.
"Sealing wax! That will go down so well. Lord Laurentius sometimes gets a bit nostalgic for the old days." Lord Marius smiled wryly. "He is always looking up historical stuff on the internet."
Fiona carefully dropped the blob of wax onto the parchment and pressed in the seal, a picture of a stag. It worked first time and she breathed a sigh of relief. "Should I have met the paladin, then?" She asked. "Since he is like me, human."
"It's bad form to say 'human'." Kadogan said and handed the envelope to Lord Marius. "It's normal and non-normal."
Fiona frowned and looked at the two elfen who were examining the seal. "This paladin of York, then. Should I have met him?"
Kadogan waved an impatient hand. "It's a bit complicated at the moment. Besides, more urgently, the candle shelf is defective."
"There is nothing wrong with the shelf." Fiona felt bewildered. "I put them together myself, they're all fine."
"The shelf is defective." Kadogan repeated.
Fiona hurriedly packed away the tools. "Is the unit failing, or slanted?"
"Just this one shelf."
"How can one shelf of a unit be defective - they are all going to be defective or none are." Fiona snapped.
Lord Marius grinned in amusement. "May I see the defective shelf?" He asked. "It sounds a curiosity."
The floor of the store room was far from even and Fiona had spent a great deal of time putting together the plain storage units and then wedging their legs with bits of cardboard so that everything was level. Kadogan indicated the nearest unit holding the candles. "It is this one." He announced. "Behold."
He took a smallish pillar candle and put it on the top shelf. It remained unmoved. He put it on the bottom shelf, and the second shelf, and nothing happened. Then he placed it on the second shelf from the top, just at eye level.
Fiona watched as the pillar candle that had been so immobile on the other shelves wobbled, fell and then rolled the length of the shelf. She found it hard to swallow as her mouth dried and her stomach froze. What would be a very minor effect on tv was icily chilling in real life. She found herself backing away from the shelf and the hair felt almost as if it was standing on end.
"Kadogan, you get excitable, this is merely a haunted shelf, not defective." Lord Marius sounded irritated. "And you have questioned your normal companion's competence in constructing the shelf units."
"That's okay." Fiona said, her eyes fixed on the candle.
"You are right, as ever, Lord Marius. I should have realised. Fiona Ellen Greene, I apologise."
"It really is okay." Fiona managed to drag her eyes away long enough to smile briefly at Kadogan before staring again at the small, inoffensive pillar candle. With a massive effort of will she managed to force herself to reach forward and touch the candle. It felt just the same as ever, slightly cool, smooth and waxy. She picked it up and looked at it. It remained exactly the same. She carefully put it down again on a different shelf.
For some reason this was a turning point. She had seen hints of what an elfen really does look like under the glamour, and she had been introduced to people that were described as goblins or boggarts or brownies but who had looked perfectly normal. Everything had happened so quickly that she hadn't had a chance to catch her breath. The electricians who had sorted out the wiring may have been goblins, but they had looked like electricians to Fiona, drinking endless cups of tea and nipping off to the bookies when there was a break. Somehow seeing this candle move had made it real. Suddenly, with no warning, this small thing that could be rigged with some fishing line and a hook, that was so routine and unexciting if seen on tv, had turned her world upside down.
"I will ring Reverend Darren King." Kadogan announced. "He will not begrudge a journey to visit, and he will be able to explain everything to Fiona."
Lord Marius nodded. "He is the ideal person to do so. Fiona should have been told earlier, perhaps, but I understand you have been busy, and it has been obvious she has not been endangered."
"Hmm?" It sounded a long way off to Fiona and she felt a bit giddy. Without warning Kadogan scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the back room just as things started going dark at the edges. He sat her gently down on a chair and disappeared for a moment.
"I thought this may be required. Though it is remarkably hard to purchase smelling salts in these times." Kadogan waved something under Fiona's nose and she gasped as the ammonia hit. As she started to come round she found a glass pushed against her lips and she took an obedient swallow. Liquid fire ran down her throat and took the last of her breath away.
As she choked Kadogan held up the bottle to Lord Marius. "It is quite difficult to get hold of decent brandy in these days. The brandy sold in shops is so insipid. I managed to get hold of this from a private distillery on a trip to Arles."
"There are a great many laws these days on alcohol." Lord Marius said. "And it is an inconvenience. However, as I understand you have not spent so much time with normals, I fear you fail to remember their frailty. Alcohol of this strength can be injurious to them, they require more insipid fare." He looked at Fiona who was starting to come round from her choking fit. "Fortunately it appears that Fiona Ellen Greene is unaffected, but perhaps a cup of coffee all round will be a good idea. Five sugars for me."
The Reverend Darren King, exorcist, was not what Fiona had expected. Her first thought on meeting him was just how good looking he was. For a start he was younger than she expected, in his late thirties, with short dark hair and green eyes. And he just didn't look like a vicar. He was wearing jeans that had been value brand many years ago and were almost washed to death with a shrunken t-shirt and a battered leather jacket. He parked up in the empty car park, raised his eyebrows at the brownies industriously landscaping, grabbed a large sports bag out of the back of the car and knocked hard on the door.
Kadogan opened the door to him with a smile. "Reverend Darren King, how good of you to come, and at short notice. We open tomorrow, you know."
"I thought it best to have a quick word with Miss Greene." Darren said, closing the door behind him. "Especially as there is no effective paladin around. Have you introduced Miss Green to Lord Ragnar?"
"Lord Ragnar has said that he will believe in the shop once it is open." Kadogan shrugged. "I am sure he will be convinced of his reality once he gets his tribute."
"There has been a lot of interest in the catalogues." Darren said, looking around. "And this looks like a pretty good set up. I've got a list of orders from the Village." He waved a bundle of papers vaguely at Kadogan. "Anyway, let's get the exorcism out of the way, then I can have a word with Miss Greene." He smiled professionally at Fiona. "Just to let you know a bit about what's going on. Is there somewhere I can wash my hands?"
"Er, you can use the kitchenette in the back." Fiona was caught off guard as she had been admiring the toned biceps revealed when Darren took off his jacket. "Our cafe is being set up at the moment, so you can't really use those sinks."
"Great." Darren picked up the bag and walked briskly ahead of Fiona. She enjoyed the view. "In here? And then you had better show me the site."
Fiona was glad that she didn't need to be at the exorcism. Just the candle rolling by itself had unaccountably shaken her. What would a real exorcism do to her? The ones in the films seemed bad enough. She stood for a moment at the new counter and gathered her thoughts. The till was working and there were spare till rolls. Kadogan had exerted the most unearthly influence and they had a card payment point and it was set up and working. The wooden floors had been re-varnished, the walls were unobtrusively painted and lined with newly filled display units. The lighting was working and the chairs for the cafe had finally come and were distributed already around the tables.
Louise was setting things out and making lists. Fiona was really a bit worried about her. She seemed so shy and nervous that it seemed to be almost cruel to make her deal with the public serving tea and coffee. However Kadogan had insisted as she had needed a job and he felt he owed her the chance due to something connected with Louise's great-grandfather. Fiona had not tried to pursue the line of reasoning. In her experience, trying to get a logical explanation from Kadogan was not worth a candle.
An almighty crash came from the cafe area and Louise shrieked in shock as a tray of cups fell inexplicably from the top of the hot chocolate machine. Darren came stalking out of the store room and straight over to the cafe. 'Of course,' thought Fiona, 'That cafe wall backs onto the store room, and that's probably where the shelf is.' She found herself mentally trying to work out the relative distances as she ran over to Louise. Darren pushed past her and started to firmly lecture the wall in Latin. Louise grabbed hold of Fiona's arm.
"We'd better get out of Darren's way." Fiona said quietly, moving back carefully.
Louise nodded. "It's only a minor spirit, but it's tricky. He'll need a bit of room to work."
Fiona glanced at her. So much for comforting the nervous girl. Darren was continuing, it sounded like he was praying, although it did sound at one point as if he was snapping a Latin version of, 'You-stay-exactly-where-you-are-or-else.' Kadogan came out from the stairwell looking untroubled.
"It is always a pleasure to watch an expert excel in his chosen field." He remarked calmly.
"Do you mind?" Darren snapped irritably before continuing with his Latin. He then stalked back to the store room. Fiona trailed a safe distance after him and peered into the room. Darren made the sign of the cross over the wall and splashed it with water from a small, silver cup. There was a sound like a gunshot. Then Darren nodded in satisfaction and started packing up his things. "Miss Greene, may I have a word in private?" he asked.
"That is entirely appropriate." Kadogan said. "I shall assist Louise in clearing up the cups."
"Would you like a tea or a coffee?" Fiona asked brightly, trying to hide that she was suddenly nervous.
"Tea, milk, no sugar." Darren leant against the door frame as Fiona bustled about the kettle. She looked at her speciality teas. It was definitely an Orange Pekoe type of afternoon. "You are doing okay."
Fiona paused as she poured hot water into the mugs. She didn't feel like it. "Would you like a biscuit?" She asked.
"I'm fine, thanks. And you are doing okay. But are you doing okay for the right reasons?" Darren took his mug off her. "Is there anywhere we can sit with a bit of comfort?"
"We can go upstairs. We'll be renting a few of the rooms out, but at the moment we have a sort of office going." Fiona eased past Darren. "This way."
The top floor of the building was newly decorated as well but was still a blank canvas, just bare but clean and decorated walls. One room upstairs had been converted into an office and there were two chairs and a table next to the window. They hadn't got around to putting up curtains or blinds yet and the weak spring sunshine seemed almost harsh. Fiona moved some papers from the table to next to the computer and waved Darren to sit down. "We've been focusing on the shop." She said, a bit lamely.
Darren didn't seem to be paying any attention to his surroundings. He carefully placed his mug in front of him and looked hard at Fiona. "Let me summarise. You saved Kadogan's life just before Christmas. He decides that he owes you - and he does - and that he is going to give you your heart's desire. Three and a half months later you find yourself in a converted pub about to open a mystical supplies shop with Kadogan. Was that your desire?"
Fiona struggled to look back over the last few months. "It's hard to work out how it happened. He asked me about what I had wanted as a little girl, and I remember how much I had liked my auntie's card shop. I had helped there when I was little, sorting out the cards, watching the calendar to put out the right cards for the right time of year, keeping up with the gift wrap and the ribbons..." Fiona sighed. "Of course, small card shops aren't really worth it unless you are in a particular location, and the best locations have horrifically high rents. So Kadogan suggested we have a shop that sells stuff that his people want and sells cards and candles and that. It seemed like a good idea. He'd put up the money, and we would run it together. I would get job satisfaction and a chance to make money and a bit of a stake in life and he would get a chance to make money and partly repay me." She shrugged. "It made sense."
"So he has you to do the donkey work for a financial enterprise that will give him contacts all over the UK." Darren said bluntly. "Why did you pick the White Hart?"
"That was really easy." Fiona said. "Pubs are closing all over the country. You can blame the supermarkets or the internet or the smoking ban, but they are shutting down all over the place. The White Hart is on the outskirts of a tourist town, has parking, lots of space and is cheap. Kadogan paid cash for leasehold and freehold. It went through on the nod - and yes, I was sensible enough to get my own solicitor to check it. I've heard about fairy gold."
Darren grunted. "Well you know something then. Watch out for that, though Kadogan will take it pretty seriously that you've saved his life. I daresay you're handing out plenty of coffees to Lord Marius as well. He's as trustworthy as an elfen gets - which is to say, not very. He'll prod for gossip and stir up trouble given half a chance, but he is mainly less harmful than most." Darren took a sip from his tea. "Lord Ragnar, the local prince, is also okay. He knows better than to prod too hard at a normal, though you are not entirely under the protection of the local paladin due to your association with Kadogan." Darren frowned "Have you met the local prince?"
Fiona shook her head. "He sounds terrifying." she said quietly.
"Has Kadogan explained about Callum - the local paladin?" Darren asked.
Fiona shook her head.
"Callum Albright is, or was, the local paladin. Paladins usually turn up where there are princes. Their job is to protect the normal population, keep the peace and work with the local princes and non normals to make sure law and order continues. Except Callum has been in a coma since early October and the signs aren't good." Darren looked worried for a moment. "There was a car crash, and all the investigations and scrying have not found anything suspicious, just a drunk losing control of his car and crashing into Callum. At first they induced coma because of his head injuries, but he has faded. No-one is sure what is going to happen."
"Can the prince pick a new paladin, or get a stand in?" Fiona asked.
"The princes have no say in who becomes a paladin." Darren smiled wryly. "That's the point. The paladins have to keep a check on the princes. Something picks a paladin, something mystical." He looked thoughtful and took a sip of his tea. "The first some know about it is when the local werewolf is knocking on their door complaining about the noise their normal neighbours are making and what's the paladin going to do about it? Usually they are found before that. With Callum being alive and yet out of action, no-one knows." Darren trailed off, looking into the middle distance. Then he visibly pulled himself together. "Anyway, you should be okay, don't take food or drink from anyone you're not sure of and ask Kadogan to deal with anyone non normal giving you grief. I'll write the numbers of the local Knights Templar down for you if you get any trouble, they should be able to help out at a push. Don't give credit and keep smiling." He paused. "By the way, what sort of price are you doing on your Church Incense?"
"I think that, considering the travelling and the incense, we can let you have a few packs for free." Fiona said, draining her mug. "It's the least we can do."
Fiona led the way downstairs, feeling suddenly very drained. There seemed to be a lot to take in and tomorrow they opened to the public - normal and non normal. Fiona wondered if she would be able to tell the difference. She walked wearily towards the store room to pick up the incense and felt almost offended at Kadogan's cheery smile as he hung up the phone.
"Great news, Fiona Ellen Greene" He said cheerfully. "We have our tarot reader."
A Great Opportunity
Dave Kinson checked his look in the mirror. He didn't look like a Tarot Reader. His dark hair was too short, he was too clean shaven and he didn't even have an earring. He wasn't going to get one either. The jeans were worn, though clean, and the sweatshirt he had pulled on had a psychedelic pattern on. His last girlfriend but one had bought it. Dave frowned for a minute. Was it Michelle? No, he was pretty sure it had been Keely. No, it had definitely been Michelle. The t-shirts Keely had got him were far too plain to be of use. Dave shook his head at his reflection. He looked wrong. It couldn't be helped though. This was too good an opportunity to miss.
He grabbed up the cloth bag with the tarot cards, the embroidered silk cloth he had found in a charity shop and the book that had the prompts and ran easily down the stairs. This would be a break, just a breathing space, when he could work out what it was he really wanted to do.
"Hello, Mrs Gittens." he said cheerfully as he jogged past his landlady and towards the door.
"Mr Kinson, you know my rules." Mrs Gittens said sternly. "You have to be working to stay here, I was very clear."
"I am on my way to work now." Dave looked injured, his brain working frantically.
"But it's not proper work, is it?" Mrs Gittens folded her wrinkled hands in front of her respectable dress. "Proper work is a proper job, with start and finish times and everything."
"The rent is up to date." Dave said apologetically. "And I am keeping busy."
"Rent or no rent. I want a proper job for my lodgers. This self employed stuff is no good."
"Things are a bit awkward and there aren't that many jobs around at the moment." Dave hefted the bag.
Mrs Gittens sniffed. "My cousin at Leeds has a dry cleaning business and is desperate for a good driver. He'll let you have the use of the van and everything."
"That sounds great, but I've got to go." Dave could think of nothing worse than a job as a delivery driver. "I've got a chance with a new shop and I don't want to be late."
Dave jogged down to the White Hart. He remembered when it had been a pub where hard men and their harder wives had a drink. It had certainly changed. The new landscaping looked sparse in the thin spring sunlight and while the new paint on the exterior looked tasteful it was still raw. He knocked on the locked door.
The woman who opened it looked harassed and a smear of dust streaked down her face and over the cheap t-shirt. Her jeans were filthy. Dave smiled warmly at her. Underneath the dirt of the last minute rush there was a lovely woman. "Hi, I'm Dave Kinson, the tarot reader. I spoke to someone called Kadogan and they said you would be opening tomorrow and could I come and get set up."
"I'm Fiona Greene." Fiona waved him in. "How much has Kadogan discussed with you?"
"He just said this was a new business with a strong New Age ethos." Dave looked around. "It looks impressive."
It was looking impressive. The stands along the walls were filled with a range of merchandise from darkly dramatic to prosaically pragmatic. Several stands of delicately beautiful cards were dotted around the wide space and near the till there were swathes of exquisite wrapping paper. Louise was sweeping up some shreds of the packing boxes and Kadogan was looking superior as he counted the candles on the display on the far wall. A discreet sign asked people to book at the till to see the Tarot Reader.
"You do know that the tarot reading is for entertainment purposes only?" Dave said tentatively. "I don't actually believe in stuff like tarot."
Fiona looked at him, then over at Kadogan. "We have two stands full of tarot books, we have a locked case full of expensive tarot decks and some of the artwork was directly inspired by the Rider Waite deck." She waved a hand over at the tasteful print of the Six of Wands. "And you are telling me that you don't believe in Tarot?"
Dave looked at her carefully. "I'm very good at the Tarot Readings. I listened to what people say and I tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes I tell them what they need to hear. It's sort of like counselling but with cards."
"Like counselling?" Fiona looked at him in some disbelief.
"It's cheaper than proper counselling." Dave said defensively. "And I have had some training in counselling." It had been online and at least it hadn't cost too much before he realised he really didn't have the patience to be a counsellor.
Kadogan came stalking over. "I am sure that there is one more white Church candle of three inches diameter than there should be according to the manifest."
"That's an acceptable margin of error." Fiona said gravely.
"I am not sure that any error is acceptable when it comes to candles." Kadogan brightened when he saw Dave. "Dave Kinson, tarot reader, I am glad you have come. You are very welcome."
"I was just explaining that the readings I do are for entertainment purposes only." Dave said warily.
"What does that mean?" Kadogan asked.
"It means he doesn't believe in tarot readings." Fiona said flatly.
"Well, of course not!" Kadogan stared at Fiona. "That would be completely inappropriate. Fiona, please will you show Dave Kinson where he will be doing the readings and if he chooses to use accommodation here I'm sure it can be arranged for a nominal rent. Now if you will excuse me I need to check on the scented candles."
Fiona led Dave through the door behind the till. "There's advantages to converting a pub. You would not believe the amount of storage rooms and cellars, and the living quarters upstairs are being converted into a few flats. Are you looking for somewhere?"
Dave tried to play it cool. "It would be convenient." He said thoughtfully. "My landlady is lovely, but she doesn't really approve of tarot reading."
"I'm not sure I do." Fiona said with complete truth. "Actually, I'd never even considered it. Anyway, here's your room. We've shoved some basics in here, we take 10% from each consultation for the first three months then we move to a fixed rent. The bedsits are basic and we have the minimum of furnishings, but the rent reflects that. Can you provide references?"
Dave could always provide references. Some of them were genuine. He looked around. The walls were painted white and there was a plain blind at the window. One plain, square, IKEA table sat in the centre of the small room. Two chairs were pushed under it, one either side. A small chest of drawers sat in one corner and a few spare chairs were neatly lined against the far wall. "Can I decorate in here?"
"Within reason." Fiona looked at him thoughtfully. "I mean, nothing too sinister, nothing that needs planning permission, nothing that will need a builder to put right and nothing with adult content."
Dave looked around. "How about the floor?"
Fiona looked down at the plain, beige carpet. "What do you have in mind?"
"Just a rug, nothing dramatic." Dave said cheerfully. "I'll get the paint and get started."
Fiona looked at him carefully. Dave gave her his most trustworthy smile. "How about hanging pictures?"
"As long as it's done carefully." Fiona frowned. "Let me know if you want one of the flats when you've finished painting."
It didn't take long for Dave to set up as he wanted. The walls were painted a tasteful pale blue as some research on the internet suggested that it was a protective colour. He had even copied the Seal of Solomon from the internet, painting it directly onto the wall and then hanging an empty picture frame over it. It looked pretty good. He looked around with some satisfaction. It was uncluttered, calm with just the right hint of mystical. There was a quick knock at the door and Kadogan came in.
"What an excellent job." Kadogan nodded as he looked around. "Will you be decorating if you take one of our flats?"
"Possibly." Dave said cautiously.
"It is perhaps best if you speak with Fiona about that." Kadogan frowned as he looked at the Seal of Solomon on the wall.
"It's just a design I copied from the internet." Dave said quickly.
Kadogan looked at it for a moment longer, then turned to Dave. "Tomorrow we open at noon. Fiona has made some advanced bookings for your services and you have three requiring readings tomorrow afternoon." Kadogan hesitated. "Tomorrow morning a friend of mine will be calling. He's quite harmless, but he is a little odd."
Dave looked blankly at Kadogan. This was a man obsessed by candles and had hired a tarot reader just by answering an ad in the paper and he thought his friend was odd. "I won't get in the way."
"Good. Now, let's have a look at the flats." Kadogan strode out of the door with a confident air. "I think you will be pleased with their standards."
The Opening Day
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."
A Great Reception
Fiona took a quick turn around the room. The tables of food looked like an army had marched through them and paper plates were now discarded everywhere. They would be finding edible glitter in unexpected corners for weeks Fiona thought to herself as she whisked up some cups from the top of a display case of athames. It was interesting catching the snippets of who was saying what to whom. Gavin Brown was in deep conversation with Steve Adderson about the practicalities of transporting live plants. “It’s not really my thing,” Steve said carefully. “I’m not very good with plants. Besides, Armani seems to make them wilt.”
“I know that there’s a market out there for properly grown and harvested ceremonial herbs and you’re a known and trusted courier.” Gavin frowned. “How bad is Armani?”
Fiona nearly dropped the cups she was carrying as a small creature crept out of Steve’s pockets. It was a few inches high with wide, pointed ears, evil features, and a wide, yellow toothed grin. He scratched his belly through the stained t-shirt and then pulled what looked like a miniature e cigarette from its dirty jeans. Steve looked down with a resigned sigh. “He’s bad.”
“Hmm.” Gavin narrowed his eyes. “Imps can be a problem with the more delicate plants but there are ways around that. If you could just guarantee the transport I’ve a great deal in mugwort seedlings that have been planted according to the magical hours and…”
Fiona carried on gathering up the plates and cups. Lord Ragnar was deep in conversation with Lord Marius and they were both looking serious. Lord Ragnar shook his head. “The increase in Dragon’s Blood in Yorkshire as a whole is becoming worrying. Are you sure you have no idea who distributes?”
Lord Marius looked grim. “I can assure you, I have plans for them when I find them.”
The tone of his voice sent a chill through Fiona and she hurried past, scuttling behind Louise and dumpling the plates by the sink. “You were absolutely right. The food has been a massive hit.”
Louise looked smug. “It’s the best advertising.” She looked thoughtful. “Have you thought of having ‘invitation only’ evenings when it’s just non-normals? We could do one once a month, put on food like this and make a big deal out of it. Of course, we’d need decent security.”
“How bad could it get?” Fiona asked carefully. Louise shrugged.
Fiona noticed Lady Freydis over at the fairy corner. Against all odds the powerful elfen, married to the Prince, was admiring a winsome, pink, polyresin fairy. Fiona took a deep breath and hurried over.
“Your ladyship,” Fiona began. “I am flattered that you are taking an interest in our merchandise.”
Lady Freydis was wearing the glamour of a tall, haughty blonde with a model’s poise. “It is just so exquisite. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so wonderful, not in all my centuries.”
Fiona kept a neutral expression on her face as she looked at the fairy. It was very, very pink, with a constipated expression under the foxglove hat and the butterfly wings stretching out behind the tubby sprite weren’t straight. “I am honoured by your interest. Of course, such things are usually picked out by the more discerning visitor. Please let me make it a gift to you.” Fiona had been well briefed by Kadogan. The Prince and his wife had to be humoured at all costs.
“A gift!” Lady Freydis sighed and looked round at her companion. “What a kindness.”
“Please, allow me to pay for this.” Her companion said.
“This is Mr Reynauld Baxter, a vampire. He’s so indulgent to me.” Lady Freydis ran a manicured fingertip over the figurine.
“I’m very happy to give a gift to Lady Freydis – in fact, it’s our honour.” Fiona stammered.
“It is my honour to give gifts to Lady Freydis.” Rey’s eyes caressed Lady Freydis, then turned sharply to look at Fiona. “But how can I give a gift if you won’t let me pay.”
Fiona looked frantically for Kadogan. She wasn’t sure what was going on here but all her instincts told her she could get herself in massive trouble. Kadogan caught her eye and came over. “Kadogan, Mr Baxter would like to buy Lady Freydis this figurine.” Fiona said carefully.
“It is so adorable.” Lady Freydis said, “It has glitter on it.”
“Fiona offered it as a gift.” Rey said smoothly, “But I insist on being able to give Lady Freydis this.”
“I understand.” Kadogan said. “Fiona will gift wrap this for you while I take payment. Of course, there’s a substantial discount on gifts of this type.”
“I never thought an elfen could be such a business man.” Rey said as he watched Lady Freydis reluctantly hand over the figurine.
Fiona started wrapping it as Kadogan took the payment. She would have known Rey as a vampire even if she hadn’t been told. His dark, straight hair was cut short and the deep brown eyes were almost burning as they seemed to look right through the person listening to him. He was tall and slim and the jeans and jacket he wore didn’t look casual on him but looked like the latest fashion statement. She deftly wrapped the gimcrack figure in layers of contrasting pink tissue, then cellophane, then ribbon expertly curled and finally a pink and silver glitter bow. Lady Freydis finally broke into a proper smile and tucked her arm through Rey’s as they went back to the buffet table. Fiona waited until they were out of earshot.
“You charged him double the price of that fairy.” She said quietly to Kadogan.
“Yes, because he’s an idiot.” Kadogan said. “Excuse me.”
Fiona watched Kadogan stalk off to join what looked like a heated discussion between Lord Marius and the head of the local werewolf pack, Kieran Latimer. He was currently frowning as Lord Marius talked quickly at him.
“So Mr Baxter bought my wife a gift?”
Fiona looked up into the sea green eyes of Lord Ragnar and for a heartbeat was almost transfixed. His eyes were cool and mocking and the smile on his thin lips looked dangerous. She was suddenly aware of the apparent strength in his shoulders under the smooth tailoring and the light gleaming on his dark auburn hair. She could feel her mouth opening and shutting but she couldn’t scrabble for the words.
“My apologies, Fiona Greene.” Lord Ragnar smiled. “I know that it is not your fault. Perhaps you can tell me what happened.”
“Your wife was admiring one of the fairy statuettes and I offered to give it to her, but Mr Baxter wanted the honour of giving the gift.” Fiona found the words tumbling out of her mouth and blinked in astonishment. She had a feeling that she hadn’t had a choice in what she said.
“It is unfair to use those tricks on Fiona.” Kadogan came up behind Lord Ragnar. “My lord, she is barely aware. Regardless, I charged him double.”
“I am sorry, Kadogan.” Lord Ragnar held his hands up. “And if you allow me to manipulate your friend it would set a bad precedent for the future of the shop.”
“But it would be incredibly wrong of me to oppose my Prince.” Kadogan said formally. Fiona felt she was watching some sort of dance or play where the moves were too intricate for her to understand.
“I feel I ought to make a clear gesture, to show my regard for this establishment.” Lord Ragnar said. “You and Fiona Greene are invited to join me and my court for a Reception next week. Shall we say Tuesday at 8pm?” He turned to Fiona. “Dress is optional.”
For a moment Fiona could only gape at the elfen Prince as she imagined a half naked reception but then she saw the glint of mischief in those sea coloured eyes. “I’m sure a quick wit is compulsory, though.” She said, smiling up at Lord Ragnar.
Lady Freydis was suddenly at Lord Ragnar’s side with Rey respectfully a little behind her. “Have you seen the wonderful gift that Rey got me?”
“It is beautifully wrapped.” Lord Ragnar said politely.
Lady Freydis pouted. “I hope you are not insulting the gift.” She said.
“Not at all.” Lord Ragnar smiled. “I am complimenting the skill of Fiona Greene who wrapped the charming gift. I’ve invited Fiona and Kadogan to a reception next Tuesday at 8pm.”
Lady Freydis’ expression hardened a little as she turned to Fiona. “Don’t take Ragnar too seriously, darling. He’s a shocking flirt.”
Once again Fiona found herself floundering. “Your husband is a very charming man.” She said.
“Lord Ragnar is showing a great deal of favour to me.” Kadogan said carefully. “Besides, Lord Marius wishes Fiona Greene to have a relationship with Steve Adderson. He’s talked a great deal about it.”
“Why would Lord Marius want something like that?” Lady Freydis looked suspicious.
Kadogan and Lord Ragnar exchanged glances. “Steve Adderson saved Lord Marius from an attack by a lich a few months ago.” Lord Ragnar said. “I believe that Lord Marius feels that he owes a debt.”
“But shouldn’t he match Steve Adderson up with someone more glamorous?” Lady Freydis said. Fiona hated her.
“I believe that Lord Marius thinks that they may have business in common.” Lord Ragnar looked bored.
“Rey’s taking me back to the domain now.” Lady Freydis said. “I feel quite overwhelmed. Besides, I can’t wait to put this beautiful gift on display somewhere.”
Lord Ragnar watched her cradling the over wrapped fairy as she left on Rey’s arm. “I’m sorry, Fiona, but that figurine is not to my taste.”
“It’s okay, it isn’t to mine either.” Fiona said. “But I have to cater for a wide range of tastes.”
“At least Kadogan charged him double.” Lord Ragnar said. “Excuse me, I think Kieran Latimer wants to talk to me.”
Kadogan carefully steered Fiona to one side where the paper orders had piled up. There were more than Fiona expected. “I’m going to be busy after this reception.” Fiona leafed through the top of the stack. “I hope we have the stock.”
“I need to mention two things.” Kadogan said carefully. “Firstly, what incenses have you bought?”
Fiona tried to remember. The last few weeks had become a blur. “I think we’ve got copal, myrhh, church incense and some benzoin. I’ve ordered some mixes from the United States but they haven’t arrived yet. Why?”
“We haven’t got any Dragon’s Blood?” Kadogan asked.
Fiona shook her head. “I did put an order in but they’d sold out. I thought I would see how things went before I tried again.”
“You must not order Dragon’s Blood at any cost.” Kadogan’s eyes seemed to burn. “We must never stock it, and if anyone tries to order it you must immediately let Lord Ragnar and I know. It is vital that you realise this.”
“Of course.” Fiona tried to make sense of it. “Why?”
“Vampires become addicted to feeding from normals who have inhaled Dragon’s Blood incense.” Kadogan shrugged. “It doesn’t end well and causes much disorder which would upset Lord Ragnar.”
Fiona nodded. “Okay, no Dragon’s Blood.” She had a feeling that there was a lot more to it than that, but she didn’t think she was going to get much more from Kadogan.
Kadogan shifted uneasily. “You are aware that we have taken a great many orders.”
“Yes.” Fiona started counting through them.
Kadogan put a hand on top of the pile, interrupting her. “And we have an internet presence, website, shop and links to large internet marketplaces.” He said.
“Yes.” Fiona wondered where this was going.
“And Louise made a very good suggestion about regular non normal meetings. Lord Ragnar is in favour and several have already asked about loyalty cards.”
“Yes.” Fiona looked carefully at Kadogan.
“And we have established that it is best that you deal with normals rather than myself and the café could end up considerably busier than Louise could manage and while Dave Kinson is in the building he doesn’t work for us and he is, in fact, independent and will not help if things are busy, even though he was helpful this morning.”
“Who have you hired?” Fiona asked.
Kadogan frowned. “Have you been taking lessons from Dave Kinson in reading people?”
“No, but I can make some good guesses. Who is she?”
“He’s a he.” Kadogan shuffled through the papers. “Why would anyone want an order of three kilos of lavender flowers?”
“I don’t know but they get a discount for bulk. So - who is he?”
“Who’s who?” Kadogan looked guilty.
“Who have you hired?”
“It is a very sad story.” Kadogan said. “It is very sad indeed, although it is entirely his own fault but he should really have known. After all, it wasn’t the right thing to do. But when all is said and done, we do have to think of what’s best for everyone in general and I’ve never known it end well but I’m sure that with the right support it can be different this time.”
“I’m going to ask Lord Marius.” Fiona took one step before Kadogan grabbed her arm.
“We need to be sort of discreet and Kieran Latimer knows anyway and of course Lord Marius knows as he passed on the request from Lord Edvard in Huddersfield, and Lord Ragnar is in agreement as he thinks that it will be an interesting experiment and of course I’m sure you won’t be in any danger.” Kadogan looked twitchier than ever. “Should I clear some of the plates?”
“I think Louise can cope with the plates.” Fiona pulled her arm away and tried to catch Kadogan’s eye. “What is going on?”
“There’s a young werewolf that got expelled from his pack after summoning a demon, which could happen to anyone, really.” Kadogan refused to look Fiona in the face. “He can stay here, help with heavy things, make himself useful and he’s more likely to stay, well…” Kadogan’s voice trailed off as he searched for the words. “Werewolves expelled from the pack can go…” Kadogan waved his hands expressively. “A werewolf without a pack isn’t a good thing. They can get feral, less able to be human. Lord Edvard thought that if Ian Tait was with us and in a sympathetic environment then he was more likely to stay within the law.”
Fiona was beginning to catch on to how these things work. “Who does Lord Edvard owe the favour to?”
“He definitely owes the favour to us.” Kadogan said. “And he’ll be very straightforward about it. He’s a vampire.”
“Umm.” Fiona took a deep breath. “So we are going to have a potential violent and out of control werewolf living here in the White Hart?” She said.
“You’ll be fine.” Kadogan said, squaring up the stack of orders.
As Fiona struggled to find the right words to express her concern she became aware of a spreading silence. Sir Ewan had returned and his hard face looked pale and drawn. He walked slowly over to Lord Ragnar and bowed slightly but respectfully.
“Lord Ragnar, I have sad news. Our paladin has died. Callum Albright passed last night.”
“Please accept my sincere condolences and please let me know when the funeral will be held. I am sure I am not the only one of my court that wishes to pay their respects. Callum Albright was a good man.” Lord Ragnar paused. “Do you know who the new paladin is?”
Sir Ewan shook his head. “We’re praying for guidance and keeping a lookout. I’m sure it won’t be long before we know.”
“But the sooner the better.” Lord Ragnar looked around the full shop. “I pledge the aid of my court to find and protect the new paladin until he is fully aware.” He looked around. “And we start now.”
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.”
“Fiona, this is Ian Tait, our new companion in this venture.” Kadogan said with an edge of artificial chirpiness.
Fiona glanced briefly over at the hard muscled man standing next to Kadogan. “Hi, Ian, great to meet you. I’m Fiona and I’m a bit rushed.” She finished scanning the pile of books and smiled at the customer. “That’s £73.47, do you want to try out our loyalty card?” She looked back. “I’ll say ‘Hello’ properly later, but Kadogan will show you where you’re staying.” She looked back to the customer. “Sorry about that.” She handed him his receipt and smiled at the next customer in the long queue.
“I think you had better follow me.” Kadogan said. He glanced around the full shop and then froze. “Actually, we have shoplifters. If you go through that door, up the stairs, fourth door on the left, that’s your studio apartment. Excuse me.”
Ian didn’t bother to offer his help. A few years ago he had seen Kadogan deal with a gang of rogue boggarts and the elfen had been viciously lethal. Instead he hefted his two sports bags, went through the door, up the stairs, past the office with a large stack of papers, a firmly closed door with murmuring voices behind it, another closed door, a kitchen and then stopped outside the fourth door on the right, the last in the passage before it bent sharply to the left. Somehow this door seemed to be a much bigger step than anything else so far.
Ian slowly lowered both of his bags to the floor. He didn’t want to do this. He wanted to go back to Ann and be happy again. He wanted time to rewind so he didn’t make those mistakes. He wanted it all to be different. Ian squared his shoulders and opened the door.
Kadogan might have called it a studio apartment, but it wasn’t so glamorous. He shared a kitchen and he had this room as his own. It could be worse. He set his bags down on the bed and looked around. It was clean. The paint on the plain magnolia walls were new and so was the plain beige carpet. The cream coloured curtains were also new and still stiff as he pushed them back a little. He had a view of a carpark where Kadogan was dealing summary justice to a couple of goblins. Past that he could see York’s medieval walls with the distinctive tower of the Minster in the distance. He checked his watch. He could take ten minutes. He needed this job and this place so much. He had to make a good impression.
He ran a quick eye over the room as he opened his bags. The bed looked comfortable and the new bedlinen looked freshly washed, clean and inviting. The sturdy wardrobe came with a good supply of hangers and the tv was set on a matching set of drawers in what was no doubt mean to be the ‘living’ part. Ian tried the chair in front of the tv. It felt good. The small table next to the chair was second hand like the wardrobe and chest of drawers but was equally as sturdy. He found a lump in his throat. Someone had tried to make him welcome. A vase of daffodils sat next to the tv and a box of tissues was on the small bedside table next to the lamp. On the small computer desk there was an envelope with ‘Ian’ written in a formal script next to a small bunch of keys. Ian hesitated before opening it.
Dear Ian, I hope that you will be comfortable. Please let me know if you need anything. You are very welcome here. Fiona.
Ian felt a lump in his throat. This was a chance to begin again. The odds were not in his favour, but that was no reason to give in. He pulled his laptop out of one of the sportsbags and plugged it in to charge. He hung his jacket behind the door, got a quick wash in the tiny en-suite and pulled on a clean shirt. The rest of his unpacking could wait, apart from one thing.
Ian dug into the bottom of the second bag, tipping his clothes carelessly on the bed. Right at the bottom, carefully wrapped, was the most precious thing he now had. Ann, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, had given it to him just before he left. He unwrapped it reverently. It was undamaged. Ian had been worrying about it all the way here. He took down the insipid print of York Minster and hung up the most important thing he had left, the only real thing he had left, the thing he needed most. He stepped back and memorised the way it looked with the morning sunlight glancing across the newly painted wall and over the pink and white, shabby chic, feminine plaque. It was shaped and sanded to look like driftwood or reclaimed fencing and there were tiny sequins framing the folksy lettering. Ian didn’t care. Ann had given him this last thing. A piece of wall art that said HOPE in fake-faded glory.
Fiona didn’t jump when Ian suddenly appeared next to her at the till. She was too busy to be startled. At the back of her mind she could hear the warnings but all she saw was another pair of hands. “Ian, are you okay helping out straight away?”
“Not a problem.” Ian glanced quickly over the till. “I know how to use this. I can take over here.”
“And I can get the café tables cleared and get some stock up.” Fiona said. “When the next tarot reading appointment comes, just send them up the stairs, second door on the right.”
“Tarot reading?” Ian boggled but Fiona just shrugged and dashed off.
Ian smiled professionally at the old lady at the till and looked again. He guessed she was a boggart under there, but now was not a time to discuss things. Instead he started scanning in her basket. What had he got himself into? He rang up the joke cook book, the humorous mug, the plastic fairy with a wobbly wand but hesitated at the four bags of mullein and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Mullein could act like catnip on boggarts and they were bad enough as it was.
“It’s for personal use, love.” The old lady said as she rummaged for her money in her cavernous bag. “You don’t really get it near us, and it’s the real deal.”
“Of course.” Ian nodded and scanned them through. “Would you like a bag?”
The queue seemed never ending. He could see Fiona frantically dashing round the tables in the café area between bringing out boxes of herbs while Kadogan stalked the floor and a pretty brunette rushing between cake stands and coffee machines to keep the refreshments coming. He couldn’t pay attention to them, though, as he had enough on his hands with all the sales. And while he kept a professional smile on, inside he was getting more and more bewildered by what was going through. There was such a mix. Some of it was definitely hardcore, non normal, magical stuff and the people buying it seemed to know their way around a pentagram. On the other hand there was the most awful gimcrack stuff that belonged on the end of a pier and that was also flying out. He kept smiling, scanning and offering the loyalty card while his head was spinning. Finally it died down and Ian was able to catch his breath. He picked up some of the spilled receipts and stuffed them into the overflowing bin. Fiona beckoned him to the café area.
“Sorry about such a bad start.” She said as she wiped the counter. “Would you like a drink?”
“Tea is fine.” Ian looked round. There were one or two stragglers around still browsing. “Is it always like that?”
“I trust not!” Kadogan stalked over. “I explained carefully to the coach driver that coach parties who arrive without giving notice beforehand will be charged for parking at a suitably high rate. The coach trip from Lord Carmichael’s domain in Birmingham had apparently been booked to come to York for several months and they thought they would come in and see what we are like while they were here.”
“We’ve sold a lot.” Fiona brought over a tray of mugs. “Ian, this is Louise who does wonders in the café. Louise, this is Ian Tait who has joined us and made an amazing first impression.” Fiona smiled at Ian. “I have never been so glad to see anyone as when you turned up at the till.”
“It’s good to be useful.” Ian said quietly.
“You were more than useful.” Fiona said. She took a mouthful of tea. “What happened to the shoplifters?”
“I dealt with them firmly.” Kadogan said. “They should know better than to steal from elfen. Ian Tait, I also commend you on your efforts. It is good to have you here.”
Ian relaxed a little. “Thank you for having me. So it won’t get like that all the time?”
“You won’t have time to get bored.” Fiona laughed. “The shop may be quiet but we are getting a lot of online and mail orders. I thought you could make that your own patch. I mean, we all help each other out but you could be the lead in that. I’ll show you where to set up later.”
“Our Tarot reader is coming downstairs.” Kadogan said. “Ian, he is not aware of what we are. Louise and Fiona are normals. He does not know anything about us.”
“But he’s a Tarot reader.” Ian was confused.
“It’s okay because he doesn’t believe in it.” Fiona said. “He’s also got a room upstairs.”
Ian saw a physically fit, youngish man come out to the counter where he had a quick check of the appointment book. He didn’t look like a Tarot Reader, more like a gym instructor or a health food rep.
Fiona stood up. “Dave, this is our newest employee, Ian Tait. Ian, this is Dave Kinson, the resident Tarot reader. He’s got the room next to you upstairs.”
The two men exchanged a polite handshake and Dave threw some money in the till and picked up a bottle of water from the cooler. “I’ll just catch up then I’m off for a run. I need to clear my head between readings.” He sat down next to Louise. “It’s been full on.” Dave took a quick glance at Ian as he took a mouthful of water. Ian looked in his early thirties, used to working out from the look of things. His hands as he held the mug of tea were strong and calloused. He looked like he was a skilled worker, like a plumber or electrician. The dent on his left hand’s ring finger said either very newly divorced or divorcing. For someone who had a trade to have to take a job here and a small bedsit it looked like a bad divorce. Dave carefully screwed the lid back on the bottle. His instinct told him that Louise and Fiona weren’t entirely comfortable with Ian and Fiona was asking Ian whether he liked his tea strong. So Ian was unknown to them.
“You look like you work out.” Dave said casually to Ian. “I can show you the nearest gym. It’s not too bad.”
“Thanks. It would be great.” Ian said.
“We can go tonight after the store closes.” Dave said. I think I’ll need the exercise.”
“Do you go to the gym a lot?” Ian asked.
Dave nodded. “I go to the kickboxing classes a lot. It’s a great way to burn off stress.”
“Do they do self defence classes?” Fiona asked. She blinked as Kadogan, Louise and Ian all turned to stare at her. “Sir Ewan suggested that I got some self defence training.”
“Sir Ewan?” Dave asked.
“It’s a nickname.” Kadogan said shortly. “Does he think you would be exposed to harm here?”
“He just said it might be helpful.” Fiona shrugged.
“I’ve spent some time as an instructor.” Dave said. He had spent one glorious month and five miserable ones as an instructor before realising that it really wasn’t for him. “I can help you out if you like.” Yes, none of the people here were used to Ian, but the job hadn’t been advertised or even mentioned to him so it looked like a friend of someone, probably Kadogan, had got the job for Ian.
“I enjoy sparring myself.” Ian said. “It’s a good way to keep active.”
Dave thought he knew most of the people involved in the martial arts scene around York. He could be wrong, but it looked like Ian wasn’t from York. So someone with a skilled trade was recently divorced or divorcing, had taken a job in a shop when he looked like the person least suited to it, had had to get someone to take him on as a favour and had moved. Dave wasn’t good with accents, it was one of his weaknesses, but he thought that Ian was from Yorkshire, but not York. “Why don’t we go after the shop shuts? I’ll show you round and we can get a few bouts in.”
“Sounds good.” Ian nodded.
“And tomorrow I’ll take Fiona for some lessons. Do you want to have some lessons, Louise?”
Louise jumped. “Sorry, I was miles away. It’s okay, I had some lessons with Kadogan, but I’m not really a natural for that sort of thing.”
Dave smiled and took another mouthful of water. Louise may not know Ian but she was fascinated by him. Dave couldn’t tell whether Louise was scared of Ian or whether she was starting a crush. He was staying out of it. He took a quick glance of Kadogan. He had long since given up trying to figure out who Kadogan was, but he found it hard to believe that he could give self defence lessons. Dave rubbed his eyes. “I need to get a run. I’m exhausted after four readings back to back this morning, and I’ve another three this afternoon. I’ll see you later.”
Kadogan found Fiona in the office, talking cheerfully to someone. He positioned himself so he couldn’t see the computer screen and listened in.
“That’s so kind of you. I can’t say how grateful I am. So, just to confirm, I can expect the delivery tomorrow… that’s right, all the colours except blue but that will follow later…” Fiona listened for a few moments. “Yes, it is unusual stock for a gift shop, but not all our customers are normal… That’s great, thanks again.” Fiona put her phone down with a sigh and made a few notes on the computer. “Hi, Kadogan. I’ve just managed to get a bulk order of edible glitter. Steve Adderson put me onto the supplier.” She turned away from the screen and stretched.
“Is there likely to be a conflict of interest between us and Steve Adderson?” He asked carefully. “Because a romantic affair could solve that problem.”
“I think there are other ways to deal with it.” Fiona sagged a little as she looked at the stack of orders piled on the desk. “Everyone’s putting in tester orders. You know, just a bag of herbs or a cheap book just to see what we’re like.” She sighed. “We’re going to have to get them out as soon as we can to make a good impression.”
“Ian can help tomorrow.” Kadogan said. “He is not suitable for a romantic affair, but he is very capable.”
Fiona caught Kadogan’s eye . “I am not interested in a ‘romantic liaison’. I am happy being single. Do not try and pair me up.”
Kadogan frowned. “But you do not have a boyfriend…”
Fiona held up her hand. “No.” She could see Kadogan fighting with his better judgement.
“Fiona Ellen Greene, I provided the money to fund this shop in order to thank you for saving my life. Since then I have been grateful for many small kindnesses and impressed by your good heart. As someone who is older than you, and I suppose in the position of a male relative…” His voice trailed off under the heat of Fiona’s glare.
“I don’t think we need to discuss this.” Fiona said.
“There is one romance that we do need to discuss.” Kadogan said. “Lord Ragnar will try to divorce his wife.”
“She did seem close to the vampire.” Fiona said. “But I suppose that’s between them.”
“Not quite.” Kadogan picked up the pencil and started spinning it around his long fingers. “Lord Ragnar is in charge of the non normals of York. Freydis has power and influence as his wife. If he divorces her then she will lose that influence and may have to leave York.”
“That’s sad, but still nothing to do with us.” Fiona reached towards the papers. Kadogan’s hand on her arm stopped her.
“There are two very real reasons why it affects us. We pay a tax to Lord Ragnar, the same as all the businesses the non normals run in York.”
Fiona nodded. “We pay 10% of everything we make after overheads. That’s why we did all the calculations on the pricing, so that we would have an idea how much we owed at the end of each week.”
“The courts of the Princes don’t use a lot of money, but they do need some. If we fail then Lord Ragnar has less than he would otherwise. Freydis will not want Lord Ragnar getting money. We shall have to be careful.”
“What is she going to do?” Fiona asked.
Kadogan shrugged, the pencil still spinning around his fingers. “We shall have to be very careful. The other reason to worry is that Lord Ragnar is a friend.” Kadogan looked uncomfortable. “It is rare for the elfen to have friendships, but we have a long history of mutual aid and I suppose that is the same thing. I will be deeply involved in anything that happens.” He frowned. “You know, you would be a great deal safer if you were romantically involved with Steve Adderson. He is a very skilled magician and has a lot of influence. He also has many contacts with other courts.”
“I am not getting involved with anyone!” Fiona snapped.
Kadogan went back down to the shop. The building was getting quieter. Louise had gone home and Ian and Dave were out so apart from Fiona’s tapping on the computer there was only the quiet murmur of the brownies. He hesitated. It was obvious that Fiona was destined for Steve. Anyone could see that. The question was, how to convince her? He had never understood romance. He didn’t want to, either, as it seemed to be incredibly complicated and difficult. But he did know someone who did understand romance, as much as anyone can, someone he knew from the old days. He would get in touch with her straight away.
“Are you sleeping with my husband?”
Fiona dropped the letter she was reading. “What?!? I mean, what do you mean Lady Freydis?”
“I am not Lady Freydis.” Freydis inspected her immaculate nails. “I am Freydis. Lord Ragnar is divorcing me and I am looking for the reason. I suspect he is in love with you.”
Fiona wondered if she would ever get used to elfen. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said.
“I don’t know why he has been foolish with divorce papers.” Freydis inspected the nails on her other hand. “I am an ornament to the court. The only explanation is magic or he is obsessed with a mortal.”
“I haven’t really spoken to him, not since the opening here last week.” Fiona had a cold sinking feeling. “I don’t really know anything about your husband.”
“He’s my ex-husband. And are you sure you’re not sleeping with him? How are your dreams? Are they hectic?”
Fiona carefully folded the letter from her mother and slotted the pages back in the envelope. “Freydis, if I tell you the absolute truth as I see it, to the best of my ability, you may want to kill me.” She took a deep breath. “But as an absolute and utter truth, I am not sleeping with your husband.”
“Does Kadogan want you to sleep with my husband?” Freydis was still inspecting her nails. Fiona got a sense that despite everything, there was a very hurt woman, or at least female, standing there.
“No, Kadogan doesn’t want me to sleep with Lord Ragnar,” Fiona said. “Kadogan would like me to date Steve Adderson. Have you slept with Rey Baxter?”
“Of course. He’s absolutely amazing and…” Freydis looked at Fiona with suspicion. “Are you planning to sleep with Rey?”
“No. I am not planning on sleeping with anyone.” Fiona said, a little louder than she meant to. Over at the café Louise shot her a startled glance and an elderly lady with a shopping trolley gave Fiona a very knowing look before going back to the herbs. “If I tell you my opinion will you promise not to hurt me?”
“Define hurt?” Freydis said.
Fiona put down her letter with a snap and stood back. “I know the subtlety of elfen,” she said. “I don’t want to put in conditions. I am trying to be fair and honest and I don’t want to be worse off because I helped you. If I say what I think, will I be worse off.”
“Of course not.” Freydis visibly braced herself.
“I think Lord Ragnar is upset because you are having sex with Rey and that’s why he’s divorcing you.”
“But he’s never bothered before.” Freydis frowned. “And he’s not innocent either. I mean, that one over in the café, I’m sure she’s descended from him. There was a lot of whispers at the time.” Freydis’ smile had a feline edge. “I was sleeping with this gorgeous young werewolf. You should have seen him. He was so muscled and handsome with the most beautiful brown eyes.”
Fiona looked over to where Louise had gone white. “It was very cruel to suggest that Louise is descended from Lord Ragnar.”
“I thought she knew.” Freydis shrugged. “After all, Kadogan has always run around after Lord Ragnar and it’s Kadogan that has helped that…” Freydis caught the glint in Fiona’s eye. “So it can’t be the sleeping-with-Rey thing.”
“What if your connection with Rey is an excuse?” Fiona felt like she was reasoning with a child. “After all, your father is dead and I believe that your father was important to Lord Ragnar.”
Freydis looked thoughtful. “I know father always preferred Lord Ragnar to me, but I find it hard to believe that he has taken this drastic step without finding another lover. Are you absolutely sure that you aren’t sleeping with my husband?” She smiled triumphantly. “It’s a trick. Are you having sex with my husband? Copulating? Are you emotionally close?”
Fiona had never been more relieved to see Kadogan in her life. He strode up to Freydis and stood between her and Fiona. “Freydis, what are you doing?”
“Is Lord Ragnar having an emotional or physical affair with that mortal?” Freydis said, waving a dismissive hand at Fiona.
“Not at all.” Kadogan said calmly. “Are you here for any other purpose?”
Louise came rushing up. “Kadogan, am I…” Her face crumpled and Freydis looked uncomfortable.
“I thought she knew.” She picked up her bag. “I’ll leave now.”
Kadogan looked helplessly at Louise who was holding onto the display case to keep herself upright. “Louise, I’ll explain. I’ll just take Mrs Tuesday upstairs and we can have a talk.”
Dave padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Last night had been amazing but he was paying for it now with a foggy hangover and a few bruises. He had gone out drinking with Ian and a few of what Dave had guessed were distant relations. They had done a few bars then a club and then there had been the awkward moment at the taxi rank that had turned into a really good fight. It reminded Dave of when he was hanging out with the squaddies from Catterick in the days before he realised that he wasn’t really cut out to be a soldier.
While he was waiting for the kettle to boil he wandered into the Tarot room to light a small incense cone. He wanted to get the right impression. There had to be a hint of exotic incense but not so much smoke to trigger coughing.
Dave lit the cone and looked around. He needed to get some art work up. The Seal of Solomon looked okay and was positioned nicely behind his head when he was doing a reading, but he could do with some extra pictures. He looked around at the frame on the wall and nodded. That looked about right. He frowned and leaned closer. Then he leaned back. He tried closing the thin blinds and then squinting at the Seal of Solomon. He still couldn’t be sure. He ran down the back stairs to the storeroom and picked up a large, flattened cardboard box. It was tricky to get it up the stairs and even harder to balance against the window to block out the light, but Dave had to try.
“Dave Kinson, you are standing on a chair holding a piece of cardboard box against the window. Is everything alright?” Kadogan asked as he came past.
Dave jumped down from the chair, dropping the cardboard. Behind him stood an elderly lady with a shopping trolley. Dave was in the t-shirt and shorts he had slept in and the old lady was giving him the most knowing look he had ever seen. He felt exposed.
“Don’t mind an old boggart like me,” she said. “I’m harmless.”
“This is Mrs Tuesday who will be staying here for a short time. We are old friends.” Kadogan said. “Why were you standing on a chair with cardboard?”
“I know it sounds crazy,” Dave propped the cardboard against the desk away from the incense cone. “But I think the Seal of Solomon is glowing, and I don’t know why.”
“Yes, I enchanted it for you as your enchantment didn’t seem to take.” Kadogan nodded. “Though I am impressed that you noticed.”
Dave’s mind caught up with his ears. “Boggart?” he said.
Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday exchanged glances. “I never know what to say.” Kadogan looked helpless.
Mrs Tuesday took charge. “Tell me what room I’m in and then go down and comfort that poor girl. I’ll put my bags away while this nice young man puts some clothes on and I’ll give him The Talk.”
“I know about the birds and bees.” Dave heard himself say that and wanted to curl up under a bed somewhere and only come out when Mrs Tuesday had left.
“I bet you do.” Mrs Tuesday said, looking him over with approving interest. “But why don’t you get some clothes on anyway and then we can have a little talk.”
Fiona winced as she heard a crash from the back room. Louise had not taken the news that she was about one sixteenth elfen well and had decided to be doing. However as the shop had only just opened and the brownie cleaners did an excellent job, there weren’t many fiddly jobs to do. Kadogan had suggested she went into the back room and put together some gift packs. There had been a lot of banging.
“I am confident she will be fine.” Kadogan lied. “I will call Lord Ragnar and inform him of this latest development.”
“I hope she’s okay.” Ian peered through the doorway. “Perhaps I should make her a coffee.”
“Make it decaf.” Fiona said. She winced again but this time the crashes were from Dave belting down the stairs followed by an unusually agile elderly lady.
Kadogan brightened a little. “Fiona, this is Mrs Tuesday who is staying with us for a while. She is an old friend.”
Dave pushed between Mrs Tuesday and Fiona and poked Kadogan in the chest. “You are a fairy.”
“We prefer the term ‘elfen’, but yes, in the past I have been described as a fairy.”
Fiona had a mental image of Kadogan with his short hair, masculine frame and no nonsense attitude wearing a pink tutu and holding a silver paper wand. “I think elfen suits you better.” She said.
Dave turned to Fiona. “Are you a fairy?”
Fiona shook her head and tried to fight the giggles. “I’m a normal, like you.”
Dave’s wild eyes turned on Ian. “Are you a fairy?”
Mrs Tuesday tried to interrupt. “I didn’t say that exactly.”
Dave ignored her and stepped forward to poke Ian in the chest. “Are you a fairy?”
Ian showed off his reflexes as he grabbed Dave’s hand before it could make contact. “I’m a werewolf. Grr.” Dave punched him.
Louise came running out as it all got heated. Ian rode the punch, ducked the second punch and then flowed. Suddenly Dave was wrestling on the floor with a large wolf surrounded by a heap of clothes. They bounced off the main counter and rolled towards the gift cards. Fiona dragged the wrapping paper stand out of the way just in time as the growling, swearing heap rolled back towards the café.
“Don’t worry about it too much.” Mrs Tuesday said calmly. “It’s been a bit of a shock for young Dave, but look at it properly.”
Fiona felt her grip on the wrapping paper stand tighten until she thought she would snap the metal. Ian had Dave’s shoulder in his jaws, drool sliding over and smearing the floor. Dave was landing solid kicks and slamming his knees into Ian’s side. “They’re going to kill each other.”
Mrs Tuesday gave her an impatient look. “Look again. Ian could rip Dave’s throat out in an second, and young Dave is strong enough to break Ian’s neck. They’re just letting off steam.”
The door jangled open and suddenly there were sixty shocked faces coming through the door. Dave and Ian instantly rolled apart, Ian having enough sense to stay in wolf form.
“How wonderful, a coach party!” Kadogan said, stepping forward with a beaming smile. “Don’t mind my associate here, he’s having a few dog training issues.”
Ian immediately sat up in an obedient dog position. Dave scrambled to his feet, uncomfortably aware of the damp patch on his left shoulder. “He’s a big softie, really.” Dave said. “Come on,” and he jogged into the back room where Louise had already discreetly dumped Ian’s clothes.
“I saw the advert online.” The driver said as he watched Dave and Ian disappear through the darkened doorway. “I thought I’d risk calling in as it’s quite early. It’s a mystery tour and York’s our first stop.”
“Are you sure that dog’s safe?” One of the older ladies said from behind him. “He looked very big. And the owner didn’t have him under control at all.”
“We do an offer of a free tea or coffee with a snack for all coach parties.” Fiona said brightly. “And do have a look around. We have some unusual stock, you won’t find half of it anywhere else. Please ask if you have any questions.” There was a stampede towards the café area.
When the rush died down, Fiona looked around and wondered what had just hit them. Ian was ringing in a tall stack of books, Louise was wrapping some muffins to go, Mrs Tuesday had found an apron from somewhere and was clearing tables, Dave had reduced three older women to helpless giggles next to the case of wands and Kadogan was explaining the full stock of candles to an interested gentleman with an overflowing shopping basket. The coach driver put his fingers to his ears and whistled shrilly.
“Okay, everyone back to the coach and we can be off to York Minster, one of England’s medieval gems.” There was a tumble of last minute orders at the till and then the shop was open.
“We’re going to need another till if we’re going to get coach parties.” Fiona said.
“An excellent idea.” Kadogan drifted over to the café with the others. He watched Mrs Tuesday fill a large teapot.
“Thanks for helping out.” Fiona said to Mrs Tuesday. “I think we would have been lost without you.”
“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday started filling everyone’s mugs. “I may be an old girl, but I can still keep up.”
“I’m sure you can do more than that.” Ian said with absolute sincerity and a wary politeness.
Mrs Tuesday chuckled. “I’m not that bad, young cub. Louise, sit down before you fall down.”
Dave looked a question at Ian who sat respectfully opposite Mrs Tuesday. “I’ve heard all sorts of stories about you. You were at Stalingrad, weren’t you?”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “It seems a long time ago now. A lot of us boggarts were recruited for the unofficial stuff. I was wearing the glamour of a young Soviet soldier. My Russian was rubbish but it was good enough for the Germans I crept up on.”
Dave frowned. “You looked like a soldier?”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “It’s hard for boggarts to wear a shape that isn’t part of their personality, but we all had training. I never liked wearing a male glamour, but it was useful. Kadogan had it easier. He was mainly doing sabotage as a nice, blond German corporal. It’s where we met.”
“I couldn’t stay long.” Kadogan said. “The elfen change when they are away from their own soil. Some of the efrits out near Tel Aviv started out as elfen on the crusades, and if I had stayed too long in that place I would have become a leshy.” He shrugged. “It works the other way round as well. I know some very well respected elfen that were born far away.”
“I feel like I ought to make notes.” Dave said. He looked at Fiona. “Do you ever get used to it?”
Fiona shook her head. I’ve only really known for three months and I’m still working it out. How about you, Louise?”
Louise was still pale. “I’ve known about the elfen for a long time,” she said. “I’m still taken by surprise sometimes.”
The bell jangled as the door opened. Fiona looked up and smiled. “Hello Steve.”
“Steve Adderson, this is Mrs Tuesday. Mrs Tuesday, this is Steve Adderson.” Kadogan looked smug. “Steve Adderson was cruelly rejected by his girlfriend and Fiona Greene was also cruelly rejected by a man that took advantage of her good nature. I think they would make a perfect couple.”
Louise stood up quickly and ran behind the counter, clattering the cups to try and hide a snort of laughter. Fiona felt her face set like a mask. “Steve and I are going to discuss some business over lunch,” she said with what shreds of dignity she could hold together.
“I have spoken to a friend of mine.” Kadogan said. “He has kindly reserved a table for you in his restaurant.” He pushed a card into Steve’s unresisting hand. “Just hand this to the waiter and they will take great care of you. I selected the wine myself.”
“I’ve seen a picture of Elaine.” Mrs Tuesday said unexpectedly. “She was absolutely stunning. Of course, she’ll be regretting splitting now.”
“What?” Steve said.
“Well, you’re making the money now. Same as Fiona. I wouldn’t be surprised if her young man doesn’t come sniffing back when he hears about her successful business.”
“It’s only been open a week.” Fiona stared at Mrs Tuesday.
“He won’t want to miss out on a chance to get his feet under the table, you listen to an old woman.” Mrs Tuesday said. “And I’m sure a strong lad like him will be able to help out.” Her hand shot out with snake like speed and grabbed Kadogan’s arm before he could say anything.
“I don’t think this is his sort of thing.” Fiona looked around blankly. “I’d better get my coat.”
“I have even arranged for a place for Armani to stay, so you can be private.” Kadogan said, giving Mrs Tuesday a hard look.
“Are you sure?” Steve said. “He’s not really housetrained.”
Armani crawled out of Steve’s jacket pocket and looked at Kadogan. Kadogan glared at the imp. “I’ll be no trouble at all,” the imp said, wiping it’s bat-like nose on the sleeve of the tiny sweatshirt. “I’m on my best behaviour.” He stretched his leathery wings and flapped over to sit on Kadogan’s shoulder. “I’ll be a credit to you.”
Steve looked sceptical but nodded. He checked the address on the card. “We won’t be long.”
“Take as long as you like.” Kadogan said smugly.
After the door had jangled closed behind them Kadogan turned to Mrs Tuesday. “You’re supposed to be helping me get them together,” he snapped.
Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “You’re going about it all wrong. You need to trust an old woman here. You and Lord Marius have told them both it’s a great idea and they’ve backed right off. You can’t push them. It’s human nature.”
Kadogan frowned. “How else are they supposed to end up married?”
“You can’t rush it.” Mrs Tuesday said. She took Kadogan’s arm and steered him out of earshot of the others. “They need to think it’s their own idea or it won’t last. Any hint that it isn’t real and they’ll fall apart at the first problem. If they think it’s them against the world then they can go through fire.”
“Are you sure about this?” Kadogan glared at Armani who was trying to steal the till roll. Armani ostentatiously backed away.
“There’s an old rhyme.” Mrs Tuesday said. “It goes, ‘He was warned against the woman, she was warned against the man and if that can’t make a marriage then there’s nothing else that can. I’ve seen it again and again. But you’ll have to be clever about it. We can talk about it properly after we get the imp out of the way.”
Armani furled his wings around himself and looked worried.
What Side Are You On
“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.”
Much at Stake
Fiona spun around as the door opened, dropping the box of incense sticks all over the floor. Kadogan was covered in blood, Dave was pale and Steve’s arm was badly burned. “What happened?”
“None of this blood is mine.” Kadogan guided Steve to one of the chairs in the café. “Steve Adderson was regrettably hurt although his decisive action meant victory.”
Fiona ran behind the counter and grabbed some ice in a cloth to put on Steve’s arm. “You need to get to hospital.”
“I’m fine.” Steve said. “It’s not deep.”
Kadogan took a look at Dave and pushed him into the nearest chair, shoving his head between his knees. “Stay there.” He ordered and disappeared.
Mrs Tuesday moved with surprising speed to flip the sign on the door to ‘Closed’ and hurry the three brownies who were browsing the giftwrap. “It’s a bad time at the moment,” she said. “But if you come back tomorrow then I’ll make sure you get 10% off.”
“Is it something serious?” the older brownie said, trying to tear her eyes away from the splashes of blood that Kadogan had trailed in.
“We’ll know more when Lord Ragnar gets here.” Mrs Tuesday ushered them out. “Ah, here’s Lord Marius. That’s always helpful,” she lied.
Lord Marius strode over to where Fiona was fussing over Steve’s arm. “What happened?”
Steve was looking pale, but he smiled at Lord Marius. “A little trouble.” He shrugged. “It looks like some rogue werewolves were forming a pack.”
“I’ve rung Lord Ragnar.” Mrs Tuesday looked almost as pale as Steve. She eased Dave up and looked into his eyes. “First kill? It’s never easy, but I know you did the right thing, lad.”
Dave almost flinched as Kadogan strode back into the café with a bottle and grabbed a few glasses. “Dave and Steve will do better for a glass of this,” he said. “Where’s Louise?”
“She’s gone to the wholesalers.” Fiona looked at the bottle narrowly as Kadogan poured small amounts of the colourless liquid into glasses. “Mrs Tuesday told us to set up the back room for a conference.”
“I made a few calls.” Mrs Tuesday started picking up the incense sticks. “It’s a bad business.”
Fiona watched as Steve and Dave gasped desperately for air after some of Kadogan’s special brandy. “Kadogan, you had better change your clothes. You look terrifying.”
“I suppose you are right, Fiona Greene,” Kadogan said, “As I am sure werewolves will soon be attending and it would be tactless.” He frowned. “Manners are so important to werewolves.” He disappeared into the back again.
“How is your arm?” Lord Marius checked Steve again.
“It’s a lot better.” Steve shook his head. “I think the drink helped. What was it?”
“I really do need to speak to Kadogan about giving that brandy to mortals.” Lord Marius sniffed at the glass and shook his head. “It is not always safe. What magic did you use?”
“I called down some chain lightning.” Steve stretched his arm and winced. “Next time I’ll find a better earthing point.”
Ian threw open the door and strode in followed by Kieran Latimer. Kieran went straight to Dave.
“I am so sorry you were caught in the middle of this,” he said with deep sincerity, grabbing Dave’s hand and shaking it relentlessly. “Our pack is completely in your debt and you may call on us at any time.”
“I’m sure anyone would have done the same.” Dave mumbled.
“And we would be grateful to them.” Kieran kept pumping Dave’s hand. “You’ll have to come around for a meal sometime. Perhaps next week. We’ll make you very welcome. How about next Wednesday?”
Mrs Tuesday took one look at Ian’s set features, poured a small glass of Kadogan’s special brandy and pushed it into Ian’s trembling hand. “Drink it.” Ian’s face turned scarlet as he choked and gasped after his obedient mouthful. Mrs Tuesday nodded. “Good lad. Now, that pile of rocks out there, you see them?” Ian nodded, still incapable of speech. “Right, I want you to move them to the other side of the car park. You can use a wheelbarrow if you like.” She watched as Ian rushed to the back and then turned to Kieran. “I know he’s not one of your pack, but he’s a good lad and he’s had a shock.”
Kieran finally let go of Dave’s hand. “I know. It’s a difficult situation. He has done well today, though.”
“He took on a couple of them without thought.” Steve was putting fresh ice on his arm. “And they invited him to join them.”
Fiona looked at Mrs Tuesday. “Those rocks need to be where they are. If Ian moves them then they’ll all need to be moved back.”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “I think it will take moving them there and back to get Ian back to normal. It won’t hurt him.” She glanced out of the window. “Here’s Lord Ragnar. And the Templars.”
Lord Ragnar went straight to Dave and shook his unresisting hand. “I am deeply in your debt, Dave Kinson. You have the freedom of our court. How may we reward you?”
“Don’t try and bounce him into an easy favour.” Sir Craig said as he walked up behind him. He saw Dave’s dazed expression as Lord Ragnar continued to shake his hand and gave him a nod. “We’ll catch up later.”
Lord Ragnar finally released Dave’s hand. “Kadogan, Fiona Greene, I’m putting magical protection over this building. It won’t last forever, but it’s to cover the meeting and any unfortunate consequences. Mrs Tuesday, you mentioned setting up a meeting place…”
The room emptied. Outside Ian was still moving stones, a fixed expression on his face. Dave sagged back on his chair. Kadogan started counting the candles, Mrs Tuesday was cleaning up the blood and Fiona wondered what had happened as she started making tea. It was definitely a Yorkshire tea day. Steve looked up from his arm. “Where’s Armani?”
Fiona winced and fetched a cardboard box. There was a cloth draped over it and it sounded like inside was a very asthmatic parrot singing the song of its people before throwing itself on a funeral pyre. She set it carefully on the table in front of Steve.
“Who gave him rum?” he asked, resignation in every inch as he pulled back the cloth.
Armani looked up. Fetid smoke was oozing out of his ears and wing tips and he was sickly purple colour. He belched and wiped a dirty sleeve across his eyes. “It’s all a mystery, boss.”
“Don’t you dare be sick!” Steve warned as Armani’s colour started to fade.
Armani made a heroic effort and belched again. “I’m good, boss, just facing my future with a strong wing on my back.” He fell over and started to croon again. Steve covered the box.
“He can sleep it off,” he said. He looked over at Kadogan. “I’ll put some extra magical protection on this place. If we’re going into business together I want to keep customer details secure. Besides, it looks like it’s going to be busy here.”
Mrs Tuesday came in from dumping the cleaning cloths in the outside bin. She glanced briefly between Fiona and Steve. “It’s just as well that there’s no romantic attachment,” she said as she walked past Kadogan. “You can’t mix business with pleasure.” She glared at Steve. “That arm’s healing up very quickly.”
He shrugged. “I heal quickly from magic. It doesn’t matter. About the business - we need to sort out an internet presence. Anyone who can go on the internet can get what we are selling, and often at a better price than we can manage. We’ll have some customer loyalty, but we need to have a distinct image. Something that catches the casual shopper’s attention.”
Dave grinned. “I saw this amazing vampire hunting kit,” he said. “It had a stake, holy water, a cross and a pocket bible in this fake nineteenth century box. It looked awesome…” He trailed off as he took in the outraged stares of Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday.
“You can’t sell something like that,” Mrs Tuesday snapped. “It’s disgusting.”
“It is very bad manners.” Kadogan said icily.
“What if Mr Beddoes decided to sue?” Mrs Tuesday started wiping the tables down with so much venom that they rocked. “That would soon wake you up.”
“Mr Beddoes is much to be feared.” Kadogan nodded.
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” Dave looked around. “I’m really sorry. Who’s Mr Beddoes?”
“He’s a vampire and a bloody brilliant lawyer.” Steve put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, you’re still getting the hang of it. But perhaps that’s not the way to go if your selling to vampires and their friends.”
“Good point, well made.” Dave hunched down a little.
“Why don’t we do the opposite?” Fiona asked. “Market it as ‘vampire friendly’, ‘werewolf friendly’, ‘boggart friendly’, that sort of thing. I don’t know, sell sauces without garlic, dog biscuits that are suitable for human consumption…”
“All dog biscuits are suitable for human consumption.” Kadogan interrupted helpfully.
“Okay, but dog biscuits marketed as if to werewolves.” Fiona looked at Kadogan. “Would that offend werewolves?”
Ian came in. “Would what offend werewolves?”
Fiona hesitated and then managed a tentative, “Dog biscuits for werewolves?”
“Sounds like a great idea. The local supermarkets never stock the good brands. Fiona, I think the stones should be other side of the car park. I’ll move them back.”
“That’s a great idea.” Fiona nodded, keeping Mrs Tuesday in the corner of her eye. The old boggart was appraising Ian and she gave Fiona the smallest nod. “Thanks for helping out.”
“Not a problem.” Ian went back to the car park.
“He’s looking better.” Steve said.
“I’m glad.” Fiona looked out after him. She shut her eyes briefly then returned to the issue at hand. “And we advertise ‘Fairy Teas’ for coach parties who book ahead and serve up the sort of stuff we served up for Lord Ragnar. You know, lots of spray cream and edible glitter. The normal will think it’s a great gimmick and at least some of the non normals will love it.”
“That’s a great idea.” Kadogan grinned. “Fiona Greene, you must start redoing the catalogues at once.”
Dave stood and stretched. “I think she had better deal with the coach party first.”
Lord Ragnar looked around at the commotion. “What is that noise?”
“Probably a coach party.” For once Lord Marius was not lounging with a mocking smile. Instead he was leaning forward and his emerald eyes were intent. “Kadogan would advise if there was trouble.”
Lord Ragnar looked around. “This is a strange council. We have the head of the werewolves, the local lord, the visiting Knight and the messenger to the princes. I think we have a shared goal. We all wish that York continues as a safe place for normal and non normal alike.”
Sir Craig flipped through a few screens on his phone. “Let’s get to the point. We had a band of rogue werewolves forming a pack. I’ve never heard of that happening.” He looked at Kieran.
Kieran shook his head. “I’ve heard stories, but all from a long time ago. The packs keep an eye on things. And not all strays are like those you killed. Most are like Ian.”
“Most kill themselves before they become a hazard.” Lord Marius said coldly. “There is a cruelty in the pack that I can only admire.”
Kieran glared at him. “We have to keep the pack secure and Ian went beyond what can be tolerated. But who knows, he keeps his nose clean and steps up when it’s needed and there may be a place for him in another pack eventually.”
“If he can survive that long.” Lord Marius smiled thinly.
“Is it likely to happen again?” Sir Craig interrupted.
Kieran couldn’t meet Sir Craig’s eyes. “I don’t know how many strays there are out there, and I don’t know how many know the situation here. I’ll email all the packs I know and see what they have to say.”
“Thank you.” Sir Craig turned to Sir Marius. “How many know the situation here?”
“We are a relatively small community,” Lord Marius shrugged. “Those who can use the internet are in constant touch all over the country and beyond. Those who cannot use the internet for whatever reason use other means. We all love gossip. Rumour and speculation is rife.”
Lord Ragnar glanced around. “I admit that the divorce is not coming at an ideal time, but I had to act as soon as I had an opportunity. It was unfortunate that Paladin Allbright died at this point…”
“Unfortunate is the wrong word.” Sir Craig’s knuckles turned white with the effort of keeping his calm. “A good man is dead. We have no idea who the paladin is. This means it’s down to the Knights Templar to step up. But there isn’t enough of us. Southampton is currently crawling with scarabs and a colony of ghouls has set up in Glasgow. No-one can be spared for here. And, with due respect, Lord Ragnar, we have a weak lord that cannot guarantee to control his court.”
“Allow me to summarise.” Lord Marius looked around the table. “We have a busy city with a lot of tourists, that is, lots of people who would not immediately be noticed if they go missing. We have no paladin and the Templars, while excellent, do not have a paladin’s instincts. Nor do they have much manpower. At the same time the lord of the domain is perceived as weak.” Lord Marius glanced at Lord Ragnar. “Of course, appearances can be deceptive.”
“I have had plans in place for some time” Lord Ragnar said. “It is unfortunate timing but it cannot be helped.”
“So every rogue boggart, drugged up vampire and stray werewolf, any non normal who doesn’t like playing nice, will be heading here.” Sir Craig made notes on his phone. “Strays forming into packs may be the least of our worries.”
“It is not an impossible situation.” Lord Ragnar looked around the table. “As I said, I have had plans in place for some time. I will be acting on them. Any strays and rogues will be a good target to use to unify the court. Our side will act promptly and decisively against any transgressions. Your side, Sir Craig, need to find your paladin, and urgently.”
“Trust me, we are doing our best.” Sir Craig shut down his phone and put it in his pocket. “I’ll be trying to get some extra men here.”
“My favoured soothsayer and psychic will be back from their holiday tomorrow. They will aid your search.” Lord Ragnar stood. “I do not think that there is anything more to discuss at this very moment.” He bowed to Sir Craig. “I will inform you immediately of significant events.”
“Let’s hope we’re all around to hear that information.” Sir Craig muttered as he stood up. “Because it’s not going to be an easy ride.”
Fiona stopped and ran back up the stairs of the converted house. Yes, she had remembered to lock the door. She turned around, half smiling, and knocked straight into a man. She looked up and took a breath. It wasn’t every day she bumped into someone tall, dark and handsome. The last time she did that she had ended up running a shop with Kadogan. This man seemed far more normal. He was tall, at least six inches taller than her, and the arms that had grabbed her to stop her falling down the stairs were wonderfully solid.
“Sorry!” Fiona said. “I didn’t see you.”
“I can never remember whether I’ve locked my door either.” He smiled and carefully stepped away. “I’m Kayne Brooke, your new neighbour.”
“That’s right. Tim left to go backpacking, didn’t he?” She smiled. “I’m Fiona Greene. It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too.” Kayne stepped away from the top of the stairs. “After you. You look in a rush.”
“I’m on my way to work. I’ll see you later.” Fiona clattered down the stairs, still smiling.
Fiona enjoyed her walk to work. Usually she was lost in thoughts of what she had waiting for her at the White Hart but today she was thinking about Kayne Brooke. Something was nagging at her. He looked familiar. Her mind chased itself in circles as she cut along Gillygate and down towards the river. Had she seen him before? She didn’t remember him, and he was good looking so she would surely not have forgotten any encounter. Perhaps she had seen him in a shop or a bar? Inwardly she shook her head. She had hardly been anywhere since before Christmas and the feeling she had was that they had met recently. Perhaps she had seen him in the shop? It clicked. Kayne looked like Lord Ragnar. He may even be the person Lord Ragnar stole his appearance from. It wasn’t an exact copy. Kayne’s hair was darker and his eyes were more grey than green, but it was quite close. Fiona quickened her pace as she got nearer the White Hart. Now she had got that out of the way she could concentrate on the shop.
She nodded at the brownies who were leaving and bustled into the back room. Today was an Earl Grey sort of day, she thought, as she pulled out her teabag selection. Kadogan was suddenly standing next to her.
“Fiona Greene, have you considered moving into the White Hart? There are many rooms.”
“I’m happy where I am.” Fiona flicked on the kettle. “Besides, there’s Dave, Ian and Mrs Tuesday already there. We’re nearly full. And where do you live?”
Kadogan looked shifty and shrugged. “It’s an elfen thing.” He frowned. “You would be safer here.”
“York is not a dangerous place.” Fiona pulled her laptop out of her bag. “And I don’t live far at all.”
“It may be appropriate for someone to walk you to and from your rooms then.” Kadogan looked uncomfortable. “I know Ian would be happy to do so.”
Fiona pulled out another mug for Kadogan, dropped another Earl Grey teabag into it and added three sugars. “If I am worried I can always call Dave or Ian. Dave’s giving me some self defence lessons tonight after the shop shuts. I don’t think I’ll need them.”
“I cannot always escort you.” Kadogan paced up and down the small kitchenette at the back. “What would happen if you were to be hurt? It would be my fault.”
“It would be the fault of the person who hurt me.” Fiona poured the boiling water into the mugs. “How are we for candles.”
“We are adequately served for candles.” Kadogan took the mug of tea. “But Mrs Tuesday said that stocks of mullein were becoming deficient. When is Steve Adderson due to arrive?”
“He’ll be here soon.” Fiona took her mug and laptop out to the main desk. “We’re sorting out the website. Steve was talking about moving to York and there is a flat empty underneath me. If he takes that he could walk me to and from the White Hart.”
“I never understand the rush to live under the same roof before marriage.” Kadogan grumbled.
“We’ll be in separate flats, just neighbours.” Fiona wasn’t paying much attention.
“I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to share space with that imp.” Kadogan sipped his tea and sighed with pleasure. “You make a wonderful cup of tea.” The door rattled and Kadogan took the large bundle of post from the postman. “The catalogues seem to be doing well.”
“It’s still all test purchases.” Fiona took the stack, grabbed a paper knife and started opening them. “We’ll have to wait and see if we get repeat business.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for living with Steve Adderson?” Kadogan tentatively tried Mrs Tuesday’s tactic. “I mean, you hardly know him.”
“I won’t be living with him.” Fiona quickly sorted the post into piles. “He’ll be in a different flat in the same building.”
“You saw what Armani was like when he had rum.” Kadogan was almost mesmerised a Fiona’s hands flicked the post between the stacks. “I believe he is worse when he has gin. He cries.”
“I won’t be living with him.” Fiona flicked through the orders. “There’s plenty to keep Ian going here.”
“You mean you’ll move here?” Kadogan brightened up.
“No, I mean that I’ll be in a separate flat, just in the same building. We’ll be neighbours. I’ll just take these orders to the back.”
The orders were in two stacks. The largest stack was the one with the pre printed forms. Fiona could confidently leave those for Ian. The others were the long and rambling hand written letters, often in strange ink, which had to be picked through and Ian was still learning the ropes. She glanced up at the clock. It was twenty minutes before opening. She switched on the coffee machines and hot water urns in the café so that they would be ready for the first customer before settling down with the letters. The first one was on pink paper, in violet ink, written in exquisite copperplate and incredibly badly spelled.
She was half way through and frowning over a particularly awkward word when Dave clattered downstairs for his run. She looked up at him. “Can you read this?”
Dave bent over and looked. He shook his head. “I have no idea. Are you still on for tonight?”
“I’m looking forward to it – I think.” Fiona smiled.
“I’ve got some mats down in a corner of the cellar.” Dave tried to phrase the next question carefully. “Do you work out much?”
“Not at all.” Fiona said cheerfully, “I am a couch potato. Does that mean that you’re likely to get me to the gym?”
“It wouldn’t hurt, but I just wanted to work out where to aim the lesson.” Dave checked the appointment book. “Looks like I’ve got the morning off. I’m off to the gym and I’ll be back around lunchtime.” He hesitated. “Perhaps you can get Ian to have a look around your flat, make sure it’s secure.”
Fiona looked up. “Have you been talking to Kadogan?”
Dave didn’t smile. “It could get scary. Just be careful.”
Fiona turned back to the orders. Most were straightforward but all of the handwritten ones had something in common – spray cream. Elfen from Kirkwall on Orkney to Bexhill on the South Coast were asking for spray cream. It didn’t make sense. You could get it in almost every corner shop. The door jangled as Louise came in. Fiona looked up.
“Why is everyone ordering spray cream?” she asked in bewilderment. “You can get it anywhere.”
Louise grinned as she hung up her coat in the back. “But they’re not sure about anywhere else. They don’t trust normal shops, remember. Half the elfen don’t speak to normals from one year’s end to the other. Why do you think Steve does such good business in tinsel? It’s sold by the yard in supermarkets. It’s just elfen don’t trust normal shops.”
Fiona frowned. “We keep our spray cream in the fridge. Does it need to be kept cold?” Louise shrugged then looked at the door. “Hang on, it’s the bread man. I’ll take the delivery then I’ll check the tin.”
They manhandled the trays in as Mrs Tuesday came down, smoothing down her clean apron and setting up the chairs. Fiona was worrying about the spray cream. “We can’t sell it mail order if it has to be kept cool.” She placed the crumpets at the back of the shelf. “There are enough rules about sending aerosols as it is.”
“It may depend on the brand.” Louise recounted the loaves. “We’re half a dozen brown sliced short. I’ll give them a ring.”
Fiona stacked the trays and looked at Mrs Tuesday who was refilling the sauces. “Mrs Tuesday, are we paying you?”
Mrs Tuesday smiled at Fiona. “Kadogan and I have come to an arrangement. I help out here and in return I’m kept busy.” Her smile grew wider as she saw Fiona’s confusion. “I’ve been moping, and that’s not like a boggart. I had a bad time a few years ago.” For a moment a shadow passed across Mrs Tuesday’s face. “I did my duty, and I’m not ashamed, but it wasn’t fun. Kadogan asking me here has given me a new lease of life. I’ll be back at fighting weight before you know it.”
Fiona looked doubtfully at the small, elderly lady in front of her. She knew that Mrs Tuesday probably looked different under the glamour, but she felt old. “As long as you are okay about it.”
“I’m fine.” Mrs Tuesday looked up. “Another coach party – and we’ve hardly got the coffee hot!”
Fiona sagged as the coach party left and opened up her laptop. “Mrs Tuesday, what does the spray cream say about keeping it cool?”
The old boggart stopped loading the dishwasher and checked. “They all say, ‘Keep Chilled’,” she said. “Is that a problem?”
Fiona shook her head and started searching the internet. Suddenly aware of a shadow she looked up to find Steve leaning against the counter. He grinned.
“I can hook you up with a good spray cream supplier,” he said, “But you have to keep it between ourselves.”
Fiona smiled back. “I’d take it to the grave.”
“We need to get the website sorted out.” Steve said. He casually turned the laptop so that he could lean towards Fiona. “Don’t look surprised at what I’m saying.” Steve casually tapped in a ‘Build Your Own Website’ site. “Listen, Lord Marius and Kadogan are determined to get us together. It’s going to be hard to resist. Why don’t we, I don’t know, try dating to see if they’re right.”
Fiona tried to glance casually up at Steve. He was trying very hard to look unconcerned. “It might be an idea,” she said quietly as she pointed at a particular template. Mrs Tuesday looked like she was busy restocking the cakes but she had ears like a bat.
“But we don’t let them interfere.” Steve said. “We keep it to ourselves and we can decide if it will work or not. Then we can either let them gloat or tell them to back off.”
“I like that style.” Fiona pointed at a clean looking set up, then quietly said, “Will they ever back off.”
“Probably not.” Steve bookmarked a page. “Listen, why don’t I come round tonight. I’ll bring wine, we can watch a film, talk about the website and see how it works.”
“I’ll get pizza.” Fiona said. “It won’t be quite the style that Kadogan set up, but I don’t think that matters.”
Dave felt restless as he ran back to the White Hart. There seemed to be something nagging at the back of his mind and he couldn’t put his finger on it. Both Kadogan and Ian seemed worried. Mentally he frowned as he weaved through the stragglers in Rowntree Park. A bit of a brawl at a taxi rank was one thing, but this was werewolves and vampires and who knew what else. He ran out of the park and onto the pavement. The trouble was, he didn’t know who he could trust. Ian was pretty safe but he was working through his own demons. Dave could remember the snarling ball of fur at the fight behind the allotments. He slowed down. It was happening again.
It looked like a kid barely able to shave had lost his temper. Dave slowed down as he checked out the skinny frame and the thin face as the kid threw around the huge metal bins twice the size of him, crashing them against the wall and bouncing them around, cackling. Dave blinked. There seemed to be some sort of haze around the kid. He really wanted to walk away from what looked like a seriously drugged up teen but he couldn’t help himself. How did it go? Make eye contact, keep the voice low and calm and trust your instincts.
“Are you okay?” he said, slowing down as he reached the lad.
The lad glared at him and casually swung a fist sideways against the metal bin next to him. The row of cycles didn’t even slow it’s fall as it’s massive weight crushed them. Dave glanced at the castors spinning wildly in the air and looked back at the lad just in time to duck out of the way. Then he was ducking again and wondering what he was supposed to do now.
“It’s not fair,” the lad shouted. “They think I’m stupid, but I’m not!” He kicked out and his foot went through the painted fencing. “They think they can rip me off, but I won’t let them get away with it.”
“Who’s been ripping you off?” Dave tried to keep his voice calm. “Is it a teacher or a friend?”
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m stupid. They said they’d be here but suddenly the price is up and I’m not paying it. Do you know what they called me?”
‘Great,’ thought Dave. All he needed was a stressed out addict. What was he doing? He was a Tarot reader, not a policeman. He tried to scrabble together his thoughts as he watched the lad punch another of the bins in frustration. There was a visible dent in the solid steel.
“Evan Tuesday! What do you think you are doing?”
The lad froze and Dave turned around slowly to see Mrs Tuesday stalking up to the boy like a small and elderly Sergeant Major. She ignored Dave but glared at Evan who cowered. Mrs Tuesday folded her arms. “What’s the meaning of this mess.”
“I didn’t mean it, Auntie Jane.” The lad hunched down in his thin hoodie.
“What do you mean you didn’t mean it? All these bins didn’t fall over because you tied your shoelace.” Mrs Tuesday glared at Evan. “Well, what are you waiting for? A signed invitation. Pick them all up.”
Dave watched in astonishment as Evan righted the bins with frequent, nervous glances at Mrs Tuesday. He helped steady one of the bins, nearly buckling under the weight, as Evan carefully eased it back its slot. Evan looked at him with a hunted expression.
“Sorry about shouting earlier.” Evan said politely. He glanced quickly at Mrs Tuesday. “I wouldn’t have hurt you really.”
“I should hope not.” Mrs Tuesday snapped. She frowned. “Are you working?”
“I’m on my lunch break.” Evan wiped his hands down his thin jogging bottoms. “I came here to get some mullein, but the man was going to charge £3.50 for a little teabag.” He hunched down even lower. “I like a cup of mullein at night, I don’t do no harm. But £3.50 was crazy.”
“Of course it was.” Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “You can get 25 teabags for £5 at the White Hart. Was it a boggart?”
For a moment a hint of something hairy and gangling showed through Evan’s glamour as he almost snarled. “He’s a dirty leech and thinks he’s something special.”
“We don’t use the ‘L’ word.” Mrs Tuesday said sternly but her expression was a lot less fierce. “Why don’t you come round after your shift and I’ll make you a proper dinner. Something to stick to your ribs. A growing lad like you needs a bit of feeding. Come to the White Hart.”
The tension eased out of Evan. “That’s great, Auntie Jane. I’ll be round about seven.”
“It’s a mixed bunch there.” Mrs Tuesday said. “But it’s a good bunch. This is Dave, and there’s a werewolf and an elfen, but all good people. I’ll see you at seven, don’t be late.”
“I won’t, Auntie Jane.” Dave watched with relief as Evan loped off towards the Business Park. He jumped as Mrs Tuesday turned her attention towards him.
“You can eat with us,” she said firmly. “You’re far too skinny. You need a bit of meat on your bones. But I need to have a word with you as soon as we’re back at the White Hart.”
“I’ve got a reading in an hour and I need a shower…” Dave stammered.
“That’s okay, I want to see you with your shirt off.”
Dave looked for a trace of humour, but Mrs Tuesday looked worried as she set a fast pace to the White Hart.
Fiona was getting sick of spray cream. Half of the stuff needed to be refrigerated and the rest was an aerosol which needed care in shipping. And every time she managed a coherent train of thought about the stuff she was interrupted. All she needed now was a few moments. Dave was taking a reading upstairs, Louise was in the cellar making lists, Ian had gone to the postal depot and Mrs Tuesday had taken Kadogan to her room for a serious talk. She felt a presence at the till and quickly bookmarked the page while plastering on a professional smile. The smile became real when she saw who it was.
“Hello,” said Kayne. “I didn’t know you worked here. I had you as someone who worked at an office.” He smiled. “It’s nice to see you again, neighbour.”
“It’s nice to see you too.” Fiona relaxed a little. There was something calming about dealing with someone normal, except… “Can I help you with anything? Do you need anything specialist?” How do you ask someone if they’re normal?
Kayne looked around. “It looks a bit, umm…” He searched for a polite phrase. “It’s more alternative than I’m used to. I saw you did cards and I want one for my mother’s birthday.”
Fiona relaxed a little more. “I’m not into a lot of this stuff.” She waved widely at the racks of herbs and arcane utensils. “My partner deals with that side of the business. I concentrate more on the gifts and cards. What does your mother like?”
Kayne hesitated for a moment, then shrugged. “She always seems to like something different. What have you got?”
Fiona took him along the shelves of her handmade cards. She made a mental note to work on some more. There were plenty on the shelves but not so many in the back. She picked up a traditional birthday card. A delicate spray of pink quilled roses arched across a lilac and gilded background. “How about this?”
“That looks great.” Kayne looked at it closely. It’s beautifully done.”
“I like making that design.” Fiona said. “There’s something very soothing about making those roses.”
Kayne looked at her closely and then back to the card. “You made this? You’re incredibly talented.”
“Thanks.” Fiona felt a glow. She had been so caught up in batches of fern seed and sourcing the spray cream and it was nice to go back to her main love.
“Your welcome.” Kayne watched Fiona slide the card into the custom printed paper bag and smiled as he paid. “Do you take commissions? I have some things coming up and it would be great to have custom made cards.”
“Of course.” Fiona took the payment and handed over the card. “It would be fun to make something special. Just make sure you give me enough time. It may be quiet now, but it can get really busy here.”
“Sure.” Kayne tucked the card carefully inside his jacket. “I’d better go, I’m due back at work, but I’ll let you know about cards.”
Fiona watched him leave and then went to study the cards. She was barely covering costs, but she was getting so much satisfaction and now she was being asked about making cards to order. Perhaps she could speak to Kadogan about customising cards for the Princes. Still smiling, she went back to the spray cream.
Mrs Tuesday watched Kadogan pour his red wine and solemnly add three sugars. She took a sip of her own tea and carefully placed it in front of her. The meeting room looked bare and bleak.
“You said it was important.” Kadogan sat opposite his old comrade.
“Reynauld Baxter has been selling mullein teabags to the local young boggarts at inflated prices. My sister in law’s youngest grandson, Evan, lives just over the river and he was getting stressed about it.”
Kadogan took a careful sip of the wine. It was never a good idea to make young boggarts stressed. “There is much uncertainty already in this domain. It is not a crime as such to trying and get as much as you can for a commodity – we are doing business and making profits.” Kadogan tapped his long, slim fingers against his glass. “Howver it is not good to make young boggarts irritated and frustrated.”
“I need to speak to the Prince.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly. “People never bother much about boggarts. We’re just expected to get on with it. Most of the time we do because we don’t care but we shouldn’t be treated like idiots and second class citizens. We have a value.”
Kadogan nodded. “I’ll make an appointment for you to meet him. I’m sure he’ll listen.”
“If he’s got stray werewolves forming into packs he’ll need us boggarts on his side.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly. “He had better listen. Evan was making a right mess and Dave was trying to calm him down when I turned up. By the way, Dave’s the new paladin. I saw the mark.”
“I am not surprised after the fight with the werewolves.” Kadogan said calmly. “He was most competent. Have you told him?”
“I said you would take him to the Templars.” Mrs Tuesday grimaced. “Young Dave is a good lad and it’s a shame he’s getting mixed up in the rat’s nest of the Templars, but I suppose it can’t be helped.”
“And afterwards I’ll set up a meeting between you and Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan drained his glass. “And then things will be calmer.”