You can read the story from the beginning here.
Richard sighed. He didn’t want to head to the domain, but he had better go again today. He only had a few days before he took it over fully and it needed a lot of work. He stood and stretched. Getting appointed as Prince of this domain was not exactly a prize but more like a poisoned chalice. And he was hungry again. The last thing the locals needed was a hungry vampire. All the work was taking it out of him and he needed more fuel. He paused. He should say that the last thing that the locals needed was another hungry vampire. Black Bridget was out there somewhere. Richard couldn’t risk being depleted and was feeding a lot more. Thank goodness he had built good relationships with local families over the centuries.
He strode out of the study and into the hall, where he stopped and looked at the miserable elfen huddled against the front door. “What now?”
Cowslip sighed sadly. “The lady in the kitchen has the pan again.”
Richard briefly closed his eyes. “I told you to stay out of her kitchen when she was cooking,” he said. Carol had found that her favourite cast iron frying pan was an excellent deterrent to the elfen.
“But she was making the white sugar cakes,” Cowslip said.
“They’re called meringues, and they are for the celebrations after I become Prince.” Richard stared at the confused elfen in front of him. “Let’s get down to the domain. I’ll have to link to here at some point, but tonight we walk.” He sighed again. “There’s a lot to do.” He picked up a backpack and pushed his way through the nervous elfen.
Richard led them out of the house, down the drive to the lane and then along to a stile. Automatically Cowslip checked around for trouble as he led the way over the stile, gesturing politely for Richard to follow. As Richard climbed, he saw Ragthan and Caelin watching before following him with the others. They were wary, and with Black Bridget around they had a very good reason.
Richard squinted uncomfortably at the sun. He would have preferred to journey by night, but that was too comfortable for Black Bridget. He wanted their next meeting to be in daylight where he had at least a slight advantage. He glanced over his shoulder at the ragtag elfen trailing behind him. The sun was at least doing them good. What had Lord Henry been thinking? These elfen, apparently nature spirits as well as royal pains in the neck, had been shut away from sun and growing things for centuries. Richard had to slow down to allow them time to point to a battered, late season tormentil or a leaf blowing along the road. He wanted to get out of the sun. No vampire enjoyed the daytime. He looked back again. Caelin was marvelling over a stand of ragged Michaelmas daisies. He hadn’t the heart to urge him to hurry.
The entrance to the domain was now locked by Richard. Lord Henry was a faint presence now and the last thing that they needed was Bridget barging in. He looked around at the elfen, much brighter eyed and far less pallid than even a weak ago, then touched the ancient way marker that opened the gate.
Already Richard could feel a difference. The caves now felt old rather than dead, and there was a hint of autumn leaves and moss. Today he needed to work on some defences, and the elfen were here to guard him and to reinforce his work. Richard checked the tablet he had brought with him. He’d played around with some code and managed some wonderful labyrinths to slot into place. He’d need to get advice, but he was fairly sure that he could set parameters to force the maze to change every time it was walked. He nodded to himself. “There’s lots to do today,” he said cheerfully to the elfen. “I hope Gareth has managed to get a fire going. And I have fudge for everyone when we get there.”
“What is fudge?” Cowslip asked.
Richard looked at him thoughtfully. Cowslip was a stupid name for an elfen whose glamour was male, tall, muscular and dark haired, but the vampire didn’t feel like mentioning it just yet. “It’s mainly sugar,” he said. “I chose a nice flavour for you. And I’ve got some meals for Gareth.” Richard frowned. The goblin was stuck here until Lord Henry released him or Richard took over, but the creature was looking thinner and more worn at every visit. Carol had sent supplies. Richard hoped that they would be enough.
They rounded a corner into what would become Richard’s Great Hall. It was still a cavern, but now there appeared to be a gap in the roof. Sunlight of a sort was flooding in and the floor of the cavern was green and softened. In the centre, Gareth stood, his eyes shut and his face tilted towards the warming light. Richard felt responsibility settle on him a little heavier. Such a little thing meant so much to the goblin. But there was no time and little energy to be maudlin. “Hello, Gareth,” Richard called. “Can you get a fire going?”
Gareth turned, a smile on his worn face. “I’ve one set up and ready to start, sir. I’ll get onto it now.”
Richard nodded. “I’ve brought some supplies for you and the elfen. If you find the cloth for the table, I’ll light the fire.”
Gareth scampered away as Cowslip drifted closer. “The domain is being reborn and renewed,” Cowslip said. “You must beware the taint of darkness, as you are undead, but it is still so much more wholesome than it was.” There was a glint of tears in his eyes, and he turned to where Gareth spread a clean cloth over a flat rock. “And I await with interest the taste of this fudge.”
Richard passed around packets of cheap, honey flavoured fudge to the elfen and then handed over a large hamper to Gareth. “My housekeeper said she thought the food would be sufficient for a few days,” he said. “But let me know if you need more.” He looked around and nodded. The air in here was fresh and the sunlight streaming in was warming the elfen. “I’ll be working in that corner if you need me.”
Richard placed himself safely out of the way of the sunlight on a stable piece of rock and settled down. The nexus he wanted should be there so he could start with an entrance here. He frowned in concentration, then looked up.
“Sir, sir!” Gareth hurtled towards him. “Sorry, sir, but I have to say it. Thank you and bless you and bless your housekeeper who must be a champion and a magician and thank you again for this!”
Richard stared for a moment at the ugly, tired face. “I’m glad you like the food,” he said. “Are there others that need food?” He looked around the cavern. The elfen were hysterically giggling as they licked up crumbs of fudge but he thought he saw shadows in the corners.
“There’s a few of us here,” Gareth said. “And food has been a little thin. There used to be farms, they say, with proper orchards and fields and hives and raspberries…” He trailed off. “It’s been hard, sir, but now this!” He swallowed and waved a hand to the basket.
“How many are there to feed?” Richard asked, looking at the spartan supplies that Carol had packed.
“There’s me, an old couple of brownies, but they’re very frail now. They can’t do much but they’re willing to do what they can, and they don’t take much, just a little milk will be fine – though we share and share alike down here,” Gareth added. He sighed with happiness. “Then there’s old Mr Jenkins. He’s from Wales and a boggart, but he’s not all bad. We’re all so grateful. This is festival food. Thank you!”
Richard held his anger back. Lord Henry had let his retainers starve down here, and Richard had stood aside without thinking about it and let him. A shadow passed across the sunlight and Richard pulled himself together. “I’ll make sure that some more decent food comes down tomorrow, and I’ll get the farms and forests ready as soon as I have the defences in place,” he promised. He looked across the cavern. An unfamiliar figure was standing on top of the rocks, arms raised to the welcome warmth. He took a deep breath and turned back to Gareth, choosing his words careful. “I am glad for your appreciation,” he said. “And after I become your prince, I will have a duty of providing for my people. However now, at the request of Lord Henry, I have a duty of building. I must build a place for us all. So please excuse me. I will call if I need you.” He watched the scrawny figure almost bounding away. He had a duty and, dammit, he was going to do it!