Building

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!

A Werewolf Problem

Welcome to the latest instalment of ‘Under Dark Hills’. You can read the story from the beginning here

Paul looked frantically at Mike Doyle, the paladin called in to show him the ropes. He had not expected this. “You go left, I’ll go right. We should be able to trap it.”

“Her!” the old werewolf behind him squealed from behind his face mask. “She’s not an ‘it’, she’s a ‘her’ and she’s frightened.”

Mike nodded, sweat dripping down his face. The chase was taking it out of him. “Hang on – are all the exits blocked?”

Paul nodded, equally exhausted. “That’s why we chased it – her! – here,” he said. No other exits, cupboards and windows are locked. There should be no other way out.”

“We thought that upstairs,” Mike said wearily.

“I didn’t think she could move that quick,” Paul said. “But this should be safe. You go left, I’ll go right and we should be able to grab her behind the sofa.” He looked over his shoulder at the werewolf wringing his hands. “It’s okay, Justin. I think we can catch her now.”

“Be gentle, please!” Justin called. “It’s not her fault.”

Paul exchanged a glance with Mike. Both of them were liberally scratched. “Okay, one, two, three, go!”

The two paladins charged around the sofa and in a whirlwind of arms, claws and hisses, Paul finally grabbed her. “Here she is,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the scruff of the cat’s neck.

Justin stared at the cat. “She has been my only true companion for years,” he said, looking piteously at the growling, hissing maniac that was swearing wildly in cat. “You know, I’m the last werewolf in Halifax, or I was, and I was always so careful. I spent so much time alone and Miss Cleo kept me company. She is such a gentle, loving sweetie. But you can find her a good home, can’t you, where they’ll give me updates?”

Paul nodded, exhausted. “But if she is so dear to you, why are you getting rid of her?”

“It’s that dreadful Covid,” Justin said. “I ordered some special masks at the beginning of the dratted affair, but I was too late. Ever since, I have suffered dreadfully from allergies. And I can’t keep on like this.”

Paul looked closer at Justin. The werewolf was looking pale and strained, and his eyes were rimmed red. “Have you tried antihistamines?”

“They don’t work on werewolves,” Justin said sadly. He pulled aside the face mask to blow his reddened nose. “And there isn’t a werewolf specialist around. Now I can speak to others of my kind, perhaps they can help and I can get my beloved Miss Cleo back.”

Mike looked thoughtfully at Justin and then at the pack of masks on the table, half empty. “These look expensive. May I have a look?”

Justin nodded. “But your colleague should wash his hands before he touches them. My skin is so sensitive these days. I seem to break out at the slightest thing, and I can’t risk touching anything with cat hair.”

Mike picked up the masks and examined the packet carefully. “Werewolves can’t get covid,” he said. “A lot of the packs did double duty in hospitals as porters and stuff at the height of the crisis.” He turned the packet over and over and then pulled out his phone. “I need to check something.”

Justin stared. “But look at me! I’m a wreck.” He sank helplessly into a chair. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve cleaned this house, again and again, and I have air purifiers and even essential oils – and that is not fun for a werewolf.”

Paul kept a hold on the spitting ball of fury called Miss Cleo. “You don’t have any family close?” he asked?”

Justin shook his head. “There was only me left, after, well, some unpleasantness. And I am not as young as I was. I was quite a young pup when I lost my parents, so perhaps this is just me getting older. I’m 74, which I believe is a good age for a werewolf.”

Mike flicked through the internet in search of the brand. “Why did you choose these masks?”

Justin stared at him. “They were marketed as having built in antibacterial properties that couldn’t be washed out. I know that covid isn’t a bacteria, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt.”

Mike frowned as he found the masks’ website. “Did you read the small print?” Mike asked. “Did you read why it is supposedly antibacterial?” Mike took a breath. “It’s because the fabric contains silver nano particles, Justin. You bought silver infused face masks. That’s what’s giving you a reaction. You were a werewolf wearing a mask full of silver.” Mike stopped with an effort. “It isn’t like it’s silver thread, which would have burned your face off. But according to the website, there are enough silver particles to kill bacteria. That would make you a poorly werewolf.”

Paul dropped Miss Cleo and stepped quickly back. “If you dispose of the masks, you should be fine now,” he said.

The cat ran straight to Justin who swung her into his arms. “My sweetheart! I can cuddle you again. I’ll get some tuna for you now.” Justin looked at the paladins. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am – I should pay you your fees, though, even if you don’t need to take away my darling Miss Cleo.” His voice broke.

Paul looked with disbelief as the cat-shaped demon from hell that had led them such a chase transform into a sweetly cute kitty, purring loud enough to rattle the ornaments on the mantlepiece. “There’s no fee,” he said. “But the leader of the local pack will be in touch, just to make sure that you’re alright and that you keep well.”

Justin pulled his face mask off and looked pale. “Is he very fierce?” he asked timidly.

“He’s a good man,” Mike said, “And he’ll keep an eye out for your welfare.” He watched the elderly werewolf fussing over the cat. “We’ll see ourselves out.”

“Before you go, at least take a bottle of my home brew,” Justin said. “It’s mainly blackberries, from an old boggart recipe. It will do you a lot of good.”

Out in the street, the two men took deep breaths. Paul turned to Mike. “I thought paladins battled evil and protected society.”

Mike shrugged. “Some days are busier than others,” he said. “But we did our good deed for the day.” He pulled out the bottle, unscrewed the bottle lid and sniffed. His eyes widened. “I think I know what this is.”

Paul leaned forward and caught the scent. He straightened up quickly. “It smells very…”

“Lethal,” Mike said. “It’s lethal. But it’s exactly what you need when you’ve had to chase a cat over a six bedroom, three story house with extra cellars.” He took another sniff and then reverently screwed the lid back on. “Why don’t we get back to your place and have a very small amount.” He thought for a moment. “While we’re sitting down. I think we’ve earned it.”

Paul looked at the scratches covering his and Mike’s arms. “We absolutely have.”

.

An Honest Conversation

You can read the story from the beginning here – Under Dark Hills

The rain had set in, and Paul was drenched from the brief walk from the cottage to Darke Manor. Carol answered the door and managed a strained smile when she saw him.

“Richard is in the study,” she said. “If you go in, I’ll bring in a tray of tea.” She took in the water dripping from Paul’s coat. “And I’ll bring some towels as well. You can leave the coat over there.” She gestured to a rack and looked back at him. “In fact, leave your shoes there as well.”

Paul smiled. “I’ll try not to drip on your clean carpets.” He grew sombre. “How is Richard?”

Carol paused. “He’s quiet,” she said eventually. “But I think he’s okay. He’ll be glad to see you.”

Paul took the hint and headed to Richard’s study. It seemed a long time since he had been interviewed there for the job to sort through the papers. Today had changed everything, though. He had seen Richard’s vampiric fangs. He had seen Mike and his pack drag a stray werewolf away and he had seen Richard come second in a magical battle. There was nowhere left to hide. He knocked on the study door.

“Come in,” Richard called, his voice measured and controlled.

Paul stepped into the study and closed the door behind him. It was warm, with an old fashioned open fire flickering in the grate. Lamps around the room shed soft light and there was a scent of cinnamon and smoke in the air. Richard was staring out of the window at the dark moors. Rain lashed against the window and the security lights outside Theo’s cottage could faintly been seen in the distance. Paul waited for a moment but Richard didn’t speak. “How are you?” Paul asked eventually.

Richard turned. “I’m well,” he said. He forced a smile. “And you are quite safe, I promise you.”

“I know,” Paul said.

“Take a seat,” Richard waved Paul into one of the leather armchairs by the fire, stepping around his desk to take the other chair across the hearth. “And thank you for coming on such a dismal night. I’m sure Carol will be bringing towels.”

Paul smiled. “She takes things like that seriously,” he said. “But her housekeeping isn’t why I’m here.”

“No,” Richard said. “You know that I’m a vampire. What are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” Paul said. “Except keep working on the papers and drawing my pay.”

The men paused as Carol bustled in. “Here’s the towels. I’ll be in with some tea in a moment.” She set a small bundle of towels on the arm of Paul’s chair before bustling out again.

Richard watched Paul pick up a small towel and rub it over his dark, cropped hair. “What would you say if I asked you to take your shirt off?”

Paul finished rubbing the water from his hair and deliberately folded the towel before answering. “You would be looking for a paladin’s mark. You won’t find it. I know magic. According to all that I have read so far, paladins can’t use magic.”

“It’s not unknown,” Richard said. “It’s not ideal, but a few paladins and Knights Templar have had gifts of that sort. Whoever or whatever sends the paladins, they send what is needed. You saw the magic today.”

Paul rubbed a fresh towel over his face. “Why me? I’m far from holy, and I’ve never been in the army or police force.”

Richard shrugged. “We should check. There are two ways. There is the mark – the sword on your shoulder. Or we could take you over to Oxenhope. There’s a corner in a churchyard that is considered most holy. If you stand on that, you’ll shine.”

“I’ve read a lot of the notebooks,” Paul said. “The paladins here were good men. I’m not sure where I fit in. But I’ll take my shirt off, if it makes you happy.”

“I don’t know if it will make me happy,” Richard said. “I’ve never been interested in men without shirts. But I need to know.”

Paul looked at him for a long time. “Because of what happened today?”

“Because something is happening here,” Richard said. “There are reports of sheep being savaged, but no signs of any dogs. There are children who are looking ‘sickly’ or ‘under the weather’ for no reason that a doctor can find. I can lead such non-normals that live locally against this force, but I need a paladin. I need to know.”

Paul stood. The rain had pounded through his jacket and soaked through his clothes to the skin underneath. He looked Richard straight in the eye as he unbuttoned the shirt and hung it over the back of the office chair at the desk. “Don’t play games, Mr Dark.”

“I don’t think I would dare,” Richard stood and came closer. “I saw how you reacted this morning. Turn your back.”

Paul gave him a long look and then turned. “I’ve never had a tattoo,” he said. “I spent too much time in foster homes to want to waste my money.”

Richard studied Paul’s well muscled back as it gleamed damply in the firelight. “You work out,” he observed. “Pass me your phone.”

“I keep myself in shape,” Paul said.

Richard took a picture of Paul’s upper shoulder. “You work out, obviously, and you know how to fight. You don’t flinch at werewolves and vampires and you know magic. Not bad for someone who’s just become a paladin.” Richard handed back the phone, the picture of the sword crudely etched on Paul’s shoulder was clear. “Why?”

Paul took the phone back and looked for a long time at the image. “I should be doing all the checks, and I know that you have a knack with technology, but I think I’ll accept my fate, at least for now.” He picked up another towel and started rubbing the cold rain from his torso. “What are you asking?”

“There are remarkably few men that can not only kick a werewolf into submission but that can also disarm a complicated trap spell.” Richard said. “It must have been an interesting journey to get here.”

The door opened with Carol, who froze at the wonderful view she had of Paul. She opened and shut her mouth a few times before putting the tea tray down on a side table. “You look like you are soaked to the bone,” she croaked. She cleared her throat, blushing. “I’ll go and get a spare dressing gown and I’ll dry your clothes for you.” She fled.

Paul looked at the closed door for a moment before looking back at Richard. “My parents were killed by a rogue boggart. I had an interesting few years until I stopped talking about what I had seen and started training to be what I am now. I had never, ever seen anything like the papers in the cottage down there, but it confirmed my experiences. It was something of a relief.” He watched Richard pour tea for him. “But what now? I can’t pretend I understand all of what is in those documents, but I’ve seen references to the Knights Templar and Princes…” Paul paused and stared into the fire for a moment. “I feel that I am suddenly in the middle of things that I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

There was a loud knock on the door followed by a pause. Richard shook his head and went to the door. “It’s okay, Carol, Paul is decent. We have a lot to discuss, so any damp clothing will be left outside the door in about five minutes.” He took a dressing gown from Carol, who was still blushing, and shut the door again. He tossed it over to Paul. “It’s complicated. Get changed. I’ll have a quick word with Carol and be back in around five minutes.”

Ten minutes later, Richard and Paul were seated comfortably at the fireside. Paul was relaxed in the dressing gown and glad to be warm. Richard was warier and drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. “I suppose I had better give you a quick run down,” Richard said. “You know, obviously that non-normals, like myself and Mike, exist. And you have learned about paladins. There are plenty of references to them in the papers. I’ll get in touch with the Knights Templar and they can explain their side to you.” Richard managed a grin. “They can pay your wages instead.” He hesitated. “But I’ll pay a premium for the paperwork stuff.”

“There’s a lot of work there,” Paul said. “More than I could have imagined.”

“We’re the forgotten realm, really,” Richard said. “There’s not that many people and it’s been quiet. The Prince, Lord Henry, has faded away for the last few hundred years. He put a ban on Halifax, so there haven’t been many non-normals there. Liz must have been one of the last brownies surviving.” Richard stared into the fire. “Lord Henry has decided that I’m going to take over from him at Halloween, whether I like it or not. The few elfen left have been staying here. They’re in the main living room at the moment, driving Carol scatty.”

“Is she safe?” Paul asked.

Richard pulled his gaze away from the fire. “She’s safe from them, although they are irritating her. They aren’t the risk. The problem is that when Lord Henry goes, someone else wants to be prince.”

Paul took a sip of tea. “You don’t strike me as someone rushing to become a leader.”

“I’ve never wanted that,” Richard said. “Unfortunately, I’m the best choice. I’ve already had to untangle the magic around Halifax, and I’m trying to contact all of the local non-normals who have drifted out of contact, but I’m not the normal choice for a prince. I’m a vampire. Princes are usually elfen – mad, psychotic bastards that will shred anyone in their path. I’m not exactly that type.”

“This Lord Henry chose you for a reason,” Paul said. He helped himself to a home baked biscuit.

“A few hundred years ago, around the time of the last plague, there was a challenger,” Richard said. He frowned. “That would put it in the 1660s, I think, when Charles II had returned. The challenger was a vampire and was vicious. I remember it all too well. I managed to keep myself out of their talons, but they were not exactly house trained. Nathan and I are the only local vampires. We have people who are happy to… They are happy to accommodate us. Some are families that I have fed on for generations. We also top up on some of the local livestock, for appropriate payment. Nathan and I play by the rules. This other vampire, the one that had me pinned this morning, they see normals, like Carol and Theo, as cattle. They are not kind. Lord Henry and the paladin at the time, Charles Goodman, they managed to confine the threat. They didn’t manage to destroy the vampire.” Richard sighed. “No-one had the magic. The whole country had been hit by the Puritans and the witchfinders. We’re not far from Pendle Hill and the infamous witches from there. Anyone who knew any magic kept it well hidden. I am a little more prepared now, and you seem to have useful skills. We may have more of a chance. You see, now Lord Henry is going, there’s going to be another challenge. I need to make an end to it. We need to make an end to it. They can’t hide in the shadows the way that they did all that time ago, not with smart phones and social media.” He looked sharply at Paul. “I’ve heard that Theo wants to be a vampire, although that may have changed after this morning. He isn’t alone. If word gets out about vampires here there will be a queue of idiots with no idea of what they are asking. And then there’ll be the would-be vampire hunters. It will be chaos. We have a quiet community here. We want to keep it that way.”

Paul nodded. “So we need to find this vampire and stake him, right?” he asked. “I mean, what is the catch?”

“There will be magical defences,” Richard said. “There will be magical attacks. And we have no idea where she is.” He stood and started pacing. “She’s incredibly old. They say that she came over with the Romans, though I don’t know about that. She calls herself Black Bridget or Bridget Du. And it is going to take everything we have to stop her.”

Unexpected Visit

You can read Paul’s story from the beginning here – Under Dark Hills

“You can’t keep breaking into people’s houses to clean!” Paul said. He rubbed a weary hand over his face. This was not what he wanted to deal with straight after breakfast.

“Why not?” Liz asked, putting the last of the breakfast dishes away. “It’s not like I took anything, not even a cup of tea. And the Bible says that a labourer is worth of their hire.”

“But you weren’t hired!” Paul said. “And people feel uncomfortable, that there could be someone breaking in at any time. They can’t sleep. And they feel judged.”

Liz sniffed. “I’m not surprised that they feel judged,” she said. “I would if I had left the kitchen in that state. The oven was like a midden. And as for the state of the fridge…”

Paul held up a hand. “You cannot keep going into other people’s houses and cleaning without their permission,” he snapped. “Just don’t.” He narrowed his eyes. “What’s that in the shopping bag?”

Liz lifted her chin. “Just a few rags and some of my home made cleaning spray. I’m going down to see Mr McGuire and he doesn’t mind if I have a bit of a wipe around in his workshop. He says he appreciates my efforts and will take me out to dinner.”

Paul frowned. “Be careful,” he said. “You know that Richard isn’t letting Carol go anywhere on her own. Do you want me to walk you down?”

Liz picked up her jacket and shrugged into it, fastening it defiantly and checking the lay of the lapels and the set of her scarf before replying. “I’ll be fine. I have hidden depths, Mr Kidson. I’m sure that I will be quite safe. Besides, it’s only down the lane and barely after breakfast. What could possibly happen?”

Paul watched Liz through the window as she marched down the lane and across the short cut to the cottage where Theo was staying. Then he picked up his cup of coffee and unlocked the paper room. Richard had thought that it could take a year to sort through the piles of paper in here, but that was an underestimate. He set the coffee down and locked the door behind him before switching on the small radiator. There was enough material here to keep a proper archivist busy for years let alone an amateur like him.

He sat down at the desk. It was looking better, though. There were still the heaps of letters and reports of various types, but the notebooks now had a sort of order and there were clear spots on the floor. He had even found a protective circle inked into the fraying matting. There was still no trace of the paladin, though.

Paul switched on the computer and stared blankly as it booted up. He knew that Liz was a brownie and that Mike was a werewolf and possibly head of a pack. He was fairly sure that Richard was one of the vampires from the notebook. Nathan was possibly a vampire as well, but he couldn’t be sure. Carol seemed to just about the same as him, a regular human. But he could feel something moving in the ether, something on the psychic plane was stirring. Unfortunately whatever it was had disturbed all of Paul’s attempts at scrying. He was no expert at scrying at the best of times, and the feedback he got when he tried was giving him headaches.

Theo wasn’t the paladin, Paul was sure. With the best will in the world, Theo wasn’t the calibre of the men that Paul found in the notebooks and papers. He was a good man, but he liked a drink a little too much and he got carried away. And who in their right mind wanted to be a vampire? Paul couldn’t see the attraction. Theo may want to be involved in all the strange things that the notebooks recorded, but show him a missing sheep and some suspicious paw prints, and Theo would be loading up with silver bullets instead of remembering that the important point was that a sheep was missing. He would never think of asking who was selling cheap leg of mutton in the pub last weekend.

But he needed to find that paladin. He kept finding hints and clues that something dreadful was hiding up on the moors. He needed help looking through the papers to find more information. He needed to know that Carol and Liz, and even Theo, would be safe. He realised that his phone was ringing.

“Hello, Liz,” he said as he picked up. “Is everything alright?”

“Mr Kidson, please will you let Mr Dark know that there is a werewolf here and not in a nice way,” Liz said, panic vibrating through her formal language. “I mean, I managed to get out of the way, like a good brownie, but it has Mr McGuire trapped behind his silver press and there’s something else there, but I’m too scared to look.” Her voice broke.

“I’ll let him know and I’ll be right down,” Paul said, unlocking the door as he spoke and locking it behind him. “Stay hidden and don’t panic.”

“But Mr Kidson…” Liz whispered, but Paul hung up. He grabbed thick gloves and a scarf from the rack in the hall and picked up a stout, silver topped walking stick. He slammed the door after him and rang Richard.

“Richard, it’s Paul. There’s a werewolf acting aggressively at Theo McGuire’s cottage. I thought you needed to know. Theo and Liz are trapped there.”

There was a brief hesitation. “I’ll be right there,” Richard said. “Don’t engage. Keep back.”

Paul hung up and started running.

He didn’t try to be quiet as he ran up. He could hear growling and snarling, and the best way to save Liz and Theo was to distract whatever was making that noise. “I’m coming!”

Richard passed him, running far faster than most mortals, and hurtled into the shed that was acting as Theo’s workshop. Paul followed him, straining his ears for any clue about what was there.

“I want the notebook,” Paul heard a husky voice demand as Richard reached the shed door. “And I know that you have it.”

“You!” Richard yelled, and dived in.

Paul was a long minute after. He raced into the brightly lit shed and took in the scene. In one corner there was something going on, something magical, where Richard and a presence were tangled in an arcane battle. More pressing for Paul was the huge, scrawny werewolf growling at Theo who was trapped behind the silver press. It took Paul two steps to get within reach of the creature and then he swung the walking stick – hard. The silver knob at the end hissed as it sank deep into the side of the werewolf, who howled and then turned, snarling.

“Paul, get back!” Theo yelled. “It’s not normal.”

Paul ignored him, spinning the stick around in his hand and using the momentum to hit the werewolf hard on the side of its head. It howled and staggered, fading and flowing into a skinny, naked man who rolled, groaning to his feet, a livid burn on his face.

“You are going to regret that, meat,” the werewolf snarled, swinging hard at Paul’s head. “I’m going to eat you slow.”

Paul didn’t waste time on talking. Instead he ducked under the man’s punch and punched back – hard. The man reeled back, surprised. Paul followed up with a swift kick in the ribs, and another, dancing around him and forcing the werewolf back, away from Theo and back toward the door. The werewolf shook his head and staggered a few feet backwards before snarling and bounding back towards Paul. Paul met him with a roundhouse punch, neatly placed under the creature’s chin. The creature fell back, his eyes out of focus.

Paul risked a glance behind him. There was still a magical tangle behind him, but it looked like Richard was getting the worst of it. He turned back to the werewolf who was coming back to its senses and glaring at Paul.

“I’m going to eat your beating heart,” it growled.

Paul let the words wash over him as he tried to get the measure of the creature. He feinted a high punch and then, as the werewolf raised its hands, stamped hard on its knee. There was a sickening crunch and the creature folded to the floor, snarling and flowing back into the shape of a lame wolf, snapping wildly.

Paul took a step back. “Are you hurt, Theo?”

“No, it didn’t bite me. What are you doing, man?” Theo sounded panicked. “And where’s Liz?” He staggered out from the press. “I need to find Liz.”

“I’m here,” Liz stepped out of a shadow and ran to Theo who held her tight.

Paul tossed the cane to Theo. “If it moves, hit it with the silver end,” he said. He didn’t wait to see Theo’s reaction. Instead he spun around towards the magical battle in the corner.

He was too late. Richard was pinned against the wall by magical forces. The gaunt shape of his opponent twisted, folded and disappeared with a sharp crack. Paul swore and, ignoring the snarling behind him, ran over.

“It’s magical,” Richard said. “We’ll need to get help. I could do it but I’m stuck on the inside of the damn charm.” He grimaced and his fangs showed. “I’m sorry that you got caught up with this. But I promise, I’m harmless, and so is Mike. He’ll be coming to take care of the puppy over there.” Richard gasped in pain as the magical bonds contracted. “You need to get hold of Ian Tait. Tell Mike when he gets here if I can’t.” He stopped and then swore loudly.

Paul studied the bonds. “You don’t have much time,” he said. “Hang on…” He frowned as Richard gritted his teeth against the shrinking bonds. “Theo, do you have white chalk? Or something that writes white?”

“It’s over in the cabinet in the corner,” Theo said, keeping an eye on the werewolf writhing in front of him. “Liz can get it.”

Paul didn’t take his eyes from the bonds contracting around Richard as he was held against the unpainted brick. “I’ve got this,” he said. He felt the whiteliner pushed into his hands and, muttering a quick thanks, stepped forward. He kept clear of the magical field itself as he carefully inked in the glyphs. “This magic seems about as dark as it gets,” he said as he inked in another glyph. “If you’re a vampire, it may sting a little when my spell activates, but it should free you.”

Richard grunted as the magical bonds cut deeper into him. “I can hear Mike coming,” he forced out. “You can wait.”

“You can’t,” Paul said calmly. He inked the last glyph, centred himself, muttered a few more words and there was a flash. Richard howled, then fell to his knees as he was released from the bonds, scorched but free.

Mike skidded into the shop with two large wolf like shapes bounding next to him. “What the hell!”

Richard pulled himself to his feet, the marks slowly fading as his vampiric healing kicked in. He looked gaunt and wracked with pain, though, as he stood and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said to Paul. He looked around the workshop. Scorch marks stained the walls and craft supplies were widely scattered. Liz was wide eyed and tearful and Theo looked deeply shocked. Paul stood, still calm and poised, watching Richard warily. There was a moment of silence as everyone caught their breath.

Richard broke it. “Mike, take the stray and deal with it. Theo, my apologies that you were so inconvenienced. We will speak later. Liz, we need to speak later but for now I request that you clean this workshop. Paul, my deepest thanks. Please come with me to Dark Manor to talk.” Richard smiled faintly. “You will  be quite safe.”

“Yes,” Paul said steadily, “I will.”

Blog Stuff

I am easily distracted, and far too easily bored. I found myself wondering how someone who found the blog for the first time would see it, and whether they would find the fiction easily or whether they would get bogged down by all the notes and articles.

That is why I spent most of this weekend going through the fiction and poetry on here. I found 170 separate pieces, which is a lot more than I expected. Most of those pieces have been collected together and you can find them on the menu above, on the right, under ‘Collected Fiction’. There is a drop down menu and you can find collections of poetry and fiction. Please feel free to have a rummage and see if you find any old favourites. I’ve also left them in place in the blog for anyone scrolling through.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing some blog housekeeping. I’ll delete any duplicate posts, junk any stuff that I think is below standard and I am going to force myself to go through and properly tag all the posts. I’ll do a little editing, tidy up punctuation and hopefully find a way of formatting that means that all the posts have the same line spacing.

I’m also considering removing some stories and perhaps placing them in an ebook. So many stories are lost in the crowd here, and I think thinning out some of the posts will make it easier to read. If I do put them in an ebook, though, I promise that I’ll add plenty of new material as well.

By the way, the pic above shows some of the notes I was making.

I’d love to hear any opinions you have on this, so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts.

More Questions

The latest instalment of ‘Under Dark Hills’ which you can read from the start here.

Richard looked around. Even with his vampire’s night vision, there wasn’t much to see on the moors. Everything was asleep. He turned to his old friend and fellow vampire, Nathan. “The lair could be anywhere.”

Nathan nodded. “I can feel it around, but I can’t get a fix. They knew their magic alright.”

“I may have to speak to Steve Adderson,” Richard said. “But I don’t want to be indebted to him. He’s a little too powerful and it could be a way of York or Leeds getting influence here. But the magic is beyond me.”

Nathan nodded. “There may be something in the papers,” he said. “How is the clerk doing?”

Richard scanned the moors again. “He’s doing well. It’s surprising how much I can find.” He could see the faint glow of the lights from Halifax in the east and it wasn’t helping. “After all, I found the details of…” he hesitated. “The potential challenger.”

“You can say their name, you know,” Nathan said. “They’re not Lord Voldemort.” He looked into the darkness. “We might as well go home and work something out in comfort. It’s going to rain soon. And you can’t just hand over the role to them, no matter how tempted you are. You remember what they were like and the fight they had with Lord Henry – and why they had it.”

“This is not what I had planned,” Richard grumbled. “I’m busy writing my novel. And I’ve got a lot of commissions. Remote working has generated plenty of IT glitches and I’m rushed off my feet.”

Nathan looked at his old friend. “But you’ll do your duty, won’t you,” he said.

Richard turned his collar up as the first drops of rain landed icily on his neck and avoided the question. “I’ll introduce you to Paul and let him know you can have free reign of the paper room. If you have a look there for anything that can help, I’ll speak to Mike about bringing Ian Tait over.”

“You can’t ask Ian!” Nathan said. “Don’t you remember, the man summoned a demon – accidentally!”

“That’s better than deliberately,” Richard said. “And it was my house that was affected. I remember it well. So does Carol, and I worry about her.” He turned and started trudging downhill towards his house. “But Ian knows magic, and we need all the help we can get. It was bad enough getting rid of the enchantment on Halifax. It had been there so long, it had grown roots. I’ll have to keep checking back to make sure that nothing else has come up.”

Nathan followed him. “At least you’re keeping Carol safe,” he said. “I just hope that the clerk knows to behave himself.”

Paul pushed his breakfast plate away from him. He felt stuffed. “That was amazing, Liz. Can I help with the washing up?”

“No, it’s fine,” Liz said. “I have it all under control.”

Paul wished he understood more about brownies. He’d been combing through the books in the paper room but had found very little. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

“You are paying me a good wage, and food and board,” Liz said firmly. “And I get a lot of time to myself. Now I’ve got the house clean and some sort of routine, it takes no time at all to keep the place in a decent state. I was wondering, do you think Mr Dark would mind if I made new curtains. I was talking with Carol, and the ones hanging here are in rags. There are some good fabric shops in Halifax.”

“I’ll ask him when I see him,” Paul said.

Liz meticulously straightened the draining board. “Do you know if Mr McGuire will be coming to dinner. I just want to make sure I make enough, no other reason.”

Paul nodded, his mind drifting to his main concern. “We’re talking about some places on the moors that we want to check out,” he said. “I can’t really do much until the weekend, but we want to plan our route. And Carol will be here, of course, so you’ll have a big meal to make.”

Liz sniffed. “A meal for four isn’t that big,” she said. “When the old man had company round we could sometimes do a fancy meal for twenty, plus our dinner, plus planning all the leftovers and get the dining room set up all nice.” She sighed nostalgically. “Perhaps we could open up the dining room. It wouldn’t take much to serve in there, and I’ve got it cleaned out.”

“It’s warmer in the kitchen,” Paul said. There was a part of him that knew brownies revelled in their housekeeping, but the fuss was starting to get on his nerves. “Listen, I can’t really get away today. Richard texted me and let me know that he would be bringing a friend after lunch. But why don’t I ask Theo to come over after lunch to walk you to the shops? I know Richard doesn’t want Carol going anywhere by herself, and I don’t want you taking any risks.”

Liz blushed. “If Mr McGuire wouldn’t mind,” she said.

“I know he’s busy in his workshop in the morning,” Paul said, “But I’m sure he’d be fine to come after lunch.”

“He can come for lunch,” Liz announced. I’ll make something nice for both of you. And a workshop – what does he do?”

Paul remembered that brownies had an apparent relentless pursuit of crafts. “He makes jewellery and stuff – not gold but iron and leather and that sort of thing. He showed me some and it looked nice enough I suppose. I’m sure that he’ll show you if you like.”

Liz sighed happily. “I’d love to see a nice workshop. And I suppose he wouldn’t mind me giving it a quick dust.” A shadow passed across her face. “I know Mr Dark is being particular about Carol staying here and not going anywhere after sunset,” she said. “And I think that there’s bad things going on.”

Paul thought of the stacks of paper he had been wading through. “There are always stories about wild places, and I’m sure that Richard is just being a bit cautious with his new guests.”

Liz took a deep breath. “Mr Dixon is a werewolf.”

What!” Paul said.

Liz nodded nervously, twisting her apron between her fingers. “Mr Dark told me. He said that Mr Dixon was head of a pack, but he was okay and that he could use a paw around his Bed and Breakfast places.” She flushed with embarrassment. “And he recognised that I was a brownie. I was so mortified.”

Paul thought for a moment. “Why? Anyway, don’t you know werewolves and vampires and that?”

Liz shook her head. “It was a bit odd, in Halifax, as there weren’t many of our type. My family were the only brownies we knew. There were a few ghosts down at the Piece Hall that would pass the time of day, and a family of goblins down by the Minster – but we didn’t really speak.”

“That’s it?” Paul asked, thinking of the lists in the paper room.

“My mum used to take soup to an elderly boggart down by the Borough Market,” Liz said. “But she died years ago. Mum said something about an enchantment, but I wasn’t really paying attention.” She looked embarrassed. “You probably know more about werewolves than I do.”

Paul frowned as he watched Liz pour him another cup of tea. “Mike Dixon seems a decent bloke,” he said. “And Richard seems to think he wouldn’t be a threat to you.” He took the tea gratefully. “I mean, if he was a ravening monster, he wouldn’t be running a building firm.” Paul thought about some of the builders he had known. “At least, not one like his. Besides, people know where you are, and I’m sure that werewolves wouldn’t want anyone asking questions. What does Carol think?”

“I haven’t said anything,” Liz said. “But she seems to like Mike. She was telling him off the other day because he didn’t wipe his feet.”

“So he’s probably fine,” Paul said. “But I think you shouldn’t be out after dark or alone, just like Carol. I’ll give Theo a ring.”

Paul finally got into the paper room and carefully locked the door behind him. Mike may be a werewolf, but Paul felt that the man could still be trusted. There was something solid about him, something reliable. According to the notes, the Dixon family had been builders and innkeepers in the area for centuries. Paul suspected that Richard was some sort of creature, though he wasn’t sure what. Paul pulled out his own personal set of notes. Richard and Mike weren’t the problem, as far as he could see. But Liz was right. There was something bad on the horizon. He could feel it in his meditations and scrying. Paul riffled through his notebook. What could he do? The notebooks referred to someone called a paladin, someone who championed the humans like him. Paul closed his notebook, switched on his computer and took a breath. He needed to find the paladin. They would be able to tell him what to do.

Housekeeping

“Thank you for bringing down the apples,” Liz said, handing a cup of tea to Carol. “I’ll put some up for pie filling this evening.”

Carol looked around the immaculate kitchen of the cottage. “You’ve managed a great shine in here. I don’t know how you found the energy.”

“I like to keep busy,” Liz said. She looked shyly at Carol. “I don’t suppose you know of anyone that would like a cleaner, you know, a few hours here and there? I could use the money.”

“I could at the moment!” Carol said. “The house is full of weird people who make a mess. It’s a big house that needs a lot of keeping up as it is. Normally I decorate the house for Halloween, but I haven’t been able to turn around. If they’re not raiding the kitchen, they’re rummaging in cupboards or tracking in dirt – and I never know what I’m going to find in the living room the next morning! The dirty dishes keep piling up, and the laundry is getting beyond me. Any help would be amazing. I’ll sort out the wages with Richard, but I’m sure that he’ll be generous. He knows what I’m suffering. I keep looking up and finding one of them standing over me and just staring sorrowfully at me. And eat! I can’t seem to cook enough.”

“I can cook some stuff down here and bring it up,” offered Liz. “I could make a few dozen cupcakes and biscuits, and perhaps a fruit cake. That will fill them up.”

“Nothing fills them up,” Carol said bitterly. “I’ll bring some ingredients down – don’t argue! I’ve bought in bulk, so it may as well get used up here as well as at Darke Manor. I’ll have a word with Richard…” She trailed off as the front door slammed.

“Paul went out with Theo,” Liz whispered. “It sounds like they got a little lost.”

Carol winced as she heard Paul bellowing. “What do you mean, you hadn’t used a map like that? I thought you said you could read a map.”

Theo was quieter but entirely fed up. “It’s obvious. You look at a map, you see where things are, you follow the directions. It’s not hard.”

“But we still got lost!” Paul yelled, throwing open the door to the kitchen as he turned to look at Theo behind him. “And you didn’t recognise the warning for damp ground.” He pulled his muddy t-shirt off, liberally smearing dirt over his back. “Liz is going to have a fit trying to wash this.”

“All the moor is damp ground,” Theo argued as he trailed into the kitchen. “That’s what the moor is. It’s full of peat and bogs.”

Paul turned around to see Carol sitting with Liz in the kitchen. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that Liz had someone here.”

Carol allowed herself to enjoy the sight of Paul without a shirt. The hours of working out and clean eating had paid off. He looked amazing. He also looked muddy. “What happened?” She tore her eyes away from him to glance at Theo who was equally muddy, though nowhere near as well built.

Liz jumped to her feet, turning her eyes away from Paul and blushing wildly. “I’ll get a couple of dressing gowns. If you get changed, I can get the clothes washed and dried.” She fled from the kitchen.

Paul looked coolly back at Carol. “There is supposed to be an ancient monument on the moors,” he said. “We were looking for it.”

Theo looked nervously at Paul’s broad back. “There’s supposed to be a stone circle, but we couldn’t find it.”

“We’ll have to spend some more time with the maps before we try again,” Paul said. “What a way to spend a Saturday.”

“But it’s bound to be…” Theo hesitated under Carol’s interested stare. “It’s very historical.”

Liz scurried back, her face turned carefully away from Paul’s bare chest. “I’ve brought down your bathrobe,” she said, pushing the plain black robe at Paul. “And I found this at the back of the cupboard.” She pushed a faded hotel bathrobe at Theo. “If you get undressed I’ll get the clothes washed and dried, and I’ll make something to eat.”

Theo’s face lit up. “Really?”

Liz smiled. “I’ve got a casserole ready to go, and an apple crumble.”

“You are a star!” Theo said.

“You can have the downstairs shower room,” Paul said. “I’ll take a shower upstairs.” He pushed Theo out of the kitchen.

Liz and Carol looked at the mud tracked through. Liz shrugged. “I may as well wait until it’s dry and then brush it out,” she said. “The carpet is worn to a thread, so I don’t want to try scrubbing.” She pulled a casserole from the fridge and slid it into the oven. “Will you stay for dinner?”

Carol shook her head. “I’ve got to feed the crowd up at Darke Manor,” she said.

The kitchen door opened and Richard strode in. “Carol, I’ve been thinking.”

“I hope you’re thinking of giving me a pay rise and paying Liz here to help me in the house,” Carol said. “It’s bedlam.”

Richard looked at Liz. “Are you willing to come as an assistant and a day worker?” he asked. “Obviously I’ll pay a decent rate, but it would probably only be two or three times a week once things have settled down.”

“I hope that I can give satisfaction,” Liz said.

“That’s sorted then. Ask Carol about hours, log your time and let me have the bill. Where’s Paul?” Richard looked around, but his mind was obviously elsewhere.

“He and Theo are in separate showers,” Carol said. “They got lost on the moor.”

“They’re lucky that they got home safe,” Richard said. “It can be tricky up there. Excuse me, I want to check something.”

Carol watched him wander down to the paper room and take a quick look around before unlocking the door and going in. “Well, that was easier than I thought,” she said. “If you could come in Monday morning, we’ll take it from there.”

Liz pulled out a bowl and a bag of flour before getting butter from the fridge. “Perhaps we could meet tomorrow afternoon, after church, and make some lists,” she suggested.

Carol watched Liz as she quickly brought together an apple crumble, rich with spices and full of flavourful promise. “That’s a great idea. But perhaps down here, as it gets complicated up at the manor.” She watched Richard come out of the paper room, carefully locking the door behind him. His face looked a little paler than usual.

“Carol, I think you should stay down here from tonight,” Richard said.

“What?” Carol stared at him.

Richard tapped the small, leather-bound book in his hand absentmindedly and looked around. “I think you should stay down here. I think it will be less stressful for you. I’ll help you pack some clothes. I’m sure that Liz will be glad of the company.”

“But this is Paul’s home,” Carol said. “I can’t just invite myself here.”

“I think you really should,” Richard said, frowning. “Paul will be happy to have you. It will be a lot better, just for a very short while.”

“What’s happened?” Carol asked.

“It’s complicated,” Richard said. “Just worry about the housekeeping.” He turned to Liz. “If you are looking for extra work, Mike can always use an extra paw. He has some bed and breakfast places over near Haworth and he is always glad of reliable staff.”

“Extra paw?” Liz said.

“Yes, it’s a very stable werewolf pack. I know brownies aren’t exactly comfortable with werewolves, but Mike is a good leader and I know that he’s desperate for the help. He’ll pay well, of course, and make sure that you’re safe.”

Liz went white. “I’m not called Brown. I’m called Liz Green, I mean Queen, I mean…” She stared at Richard for a long minute and then fled the kitchen.

Carol picked up the crumble mixture and spread it over the apple base. “She’s a brownie? Well, that makes sense. She is an incredible housekeeper.”

Richard frowned. “I didn’t think that she’d take it like that,” he said. “Perhaps you should have a word.”

“Are you serious about me staying here?” Carol asked.

Richard nodded. “I’ll need to explain a lot to you later, but I’m short of time right now. I’ll pick you up in an hour and you can get packed.” He caught hold of Carol’s arm. “And until I say otherwise, don’t go out after dark. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t be alone outside. And always, always carry your phone and call me at the first hint of trouble.” He tapped the leather bound book again. “Things are getting complicated.”

You can read the story from the beginning here, Under Dark Hills

Magna Carta

Today is the 807th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. A link to the Wikipedia article on the Magna Carta is here, but there are pieces all over the internet. It doesn’t always mean what people think it means, and a lot of it has been repealed, but it is still vitally important. Before this, a monarch could do what they wished, regardless. Afterwards, the ruler was brought under the rule of law. It made the king accountable and, as such, was almost immediately repealed. However, with the death of King John soon after and the long minority and turbulence of the reign of his son, Henry III, the Magna Carta was reinstated, amended, quoted, argued and somehow endured.

I’ve read a translation, and I found it very interesting. Most of it wasn’t about truth and freedom. It was more about money.

It went something like this – the king was supposed to fight wars. To fight any sort of war, a king needed soldiers. Back in the days of William the Conqueror, a lord got his land in return for a promise to fight for his king, usually bringing along some other knights and foot soldiers with him. This was a great theory for the time, but it fell down pretty quickly. The lord could be too old to fight, or sick or injured. He could have died and the heir would be too young to fight or, shockingly, a woman. So the lord paid up something called scutage or shield money, so that the king could hire someone to fight in his, or her, place.

When it comes to humans, theory and practice very rarely run along the same rails. As the theory of warfare evolved and changed, having the local squire turn up with his father’s sword and a few likely lads from the village wasn’t enough. The king now needed skilled archers and well trained cavalry. They needed people who spent their lives training for battle, like professional soldiers. In those days, that meant mercenaries, and good mercenaries were expensive. Kings started asking for scutage even if the local lord was willing to fight. It was much easier to pay regular soldiers than have someone turn up in second hand armour, serve for the regulation forty days and disappear again.

King John had managed to get bad blood between him and practically every noble around him. He took hostages and forced loans. He extorted every tiny corner of feudal custom to pull in every penny. He couldn’t rely on the barons to fight for him, as he had managed to annoy, insult or fine most of them, so he needed those expensive mercenaries.

King John exploited every loophole. Under feudal law, he had control of those too young to manage their lands, and he plundered those lands, leaving them a shell. He married off those he could to his mercenaries as a way of payment. He also married off wealthy widows, forcing them to wed the man of his choice who would be anyone who could bribe the king. It was an easy way to pay his important mercenaries but it made him even less popular. Rich barons did not like seeing well born ladies married to thugs for their dowries. They may have had eyes on those dowries themselves, but there was also a sense that forcing someone to marry ‘beneath them’ was a step too far. The first clause of the Magna Carta was to give freedom to the English Church, but the next eleven clauses are concerned with protecting those vulnerable to extortion and financial abuse by the king under feudal law and clauses six and eight are protections from forced marriage in this context. The often quoted habeus corpus or freedom from imprisonment without due process is down at clause 39.

I’ve often wondered what it was like for the great ladies, perhaps mourning their first husband, who were bundled swiftly into marriage with someone who had been born little more than a peasant. There must have been times when the gulf was wide. And the sort of man that could rise from being nothing to a place where a king marries you to a great heiress may not have made a comfortable husband.

One of those mercenaries was Falkes de Bréauté or Fawkes de Bréauté. He married the recently widowed Margaret Redvers, and got control of a lot of land, plus control of her son, the heir to the Earl of Devon. According to Wikipedia, he was not of noble birth and could well have been born a peasant. It doesn’t sound like it was a happy marriage – Margaret tried for a divorce later on and fought to regain control of her lands. Fawkes may not have been a good husband but he was, however, very loyal to John and his son, Henry III. Looking over the Wikipedia entry it sounds like his life was complicated but not boring!

Part of the property that Fawkes got through marrying Margaret was a manor in London, south of the Thames, which became known as ‘Fawkes’ Hall’ which became ‘Fox Hall’ which then became ‘Vauxhall’. This became the site of the Vauxhall Motor Company. So the name that started as a forced marriage between a high born lady and a low born mercenary became the name of a competitively priced British car. History can be quirky like that.

The clauses that prevented widows being forced into a marriage or wards being married to someone below their station have been repealed and replaced with more suitable legislation. I wonder, though, about the stories behind these clauses. I wonder about men and women struggling to deal with that forced relationship and whether they flourished or failed. I wonder if they managed to be happy, regardless.

For me, the Magna Carta isn’t a dusty document. It is a point in time which shows the stresses and strains and perhaps utter desperation of real people. It shows how rights and liberties come from pushing back against injustice and unfairness. It may have been a privileged class pushing back against a king, but that first step to make a government accountable to law started on a path that led to freedoms that we take for granted. And I am grateful for it.

Unwelcome Instructions

Mike was head of the local werewolf pack, and not easily intimidated. He still stayed close to Richard, the senior of the two local vampires as they stepped into Lord Henry’s domain. The tunnel was dark compared to the daylight on the moors above, and the air was heavy and thick compared to the sharp wind they had left behind when they entered Fairyland. “This place smells dead,” Mike said.

Richard nodded. “I don’t have your senses, but there’s not much life down here.” He looked around. “I’ve been in other domains with marble stairs and fine tapestries. This is…”

Mike aimed his torch down at the rough floor of the tunnel, then flashed it around. “It’s like an old mine. It never used to be like this,” he said. “I remember it being like a Tudor house.

Richard aimed his own torch around and nodded. “I first saw it as a Norman keep, but now it’s more like the caves south of here, in the Peak District.”

“It’s a large domain.” A voice floated out of the darkness. “It stretches from Skipton in the north down to Ashbourne in the south, with Leeds and Sheffield to the east and Manchester in the west. It’s the wild spine, or it was. And, as ever, my court reflects all of my domain as well as my mind. Come closer.”

Richard and Mike exchanged looks and headed towards the voice. The tunnel wound slowly round and opened into a dimly lit cavern. It was wide and rough walled, with wooden benches gathered around a fire pit that sent smoke and sparks up into the darkness. Tapers were wedged in cracks in the rock and gave a little light and added to the dancing shadows. Lord Henry sat facing the entrance, looking thin and stooped. A few gaunt looking elfen lounged around the fire and a goblin tended a spit at the side where some rabbits were turning. The werewolf and vampire bowed respectfully. Richard straightened and forced a calm expression. “Good day, my lord.”

Lord Henry sighed deeply and waved a languid hand. In the shadowed cavern, the cloth of his coat shimmered between a Regency coat and a medieval cloak. “Greetings. Sit and be welcome. You may eat and drink freely here without fear or favour.” He smiled thinly at Richard. “That is, if there is anything here that you would eat.”

“I am grateful for the kind thought,” Richard said smoothly.

Lord Henry looked Mike up and down. “No doubt your puppy would like some bones?” He laughed at Mike’s suddenly fixed expression. “I jest only.” He sighed heavily and waved towards the logs. “Please sit with me and my last few counsellors.”

Richard and Mike took seats and looked at the hopeless expressions of the elfen around them. “You summoned us, my lord,” said Richard. “How may we aid you?”

“I loathe Halifax,” Lord Henry said. “Our kind, the waifs and strays of our shadow world…” He glanced at Mike’s rigid features. “No offence, Michael Dixon, no offence. But as I was saying, I put a ward around Halifax so that our kind would be deterred from visiting. They would find it easy to leave, but hard to enter.” There was a long pause as Lord Henry stared at the fire, lost in thought, before he shook himself and continued. “The ward should be removed. It has no place in these modern days. Alas, I have misremembered my magic and I cannot think how to remove it.”

“I have some skill in magic,” Richard said respectfully. “It will be my pleasure to remove that ward.”

Lord Henry nodded. “I know, Richard Dark, I know. Removing it can be your first act when you take over as Prince, at All Hallows Eve. That is but half a moon away, is it not?”

“Er…” Richard stared at him in horror.

“It is not conventional to have a vampiric prince, but I believe that it worked well in Huddersfield, with whatever he is calling himself now. And I am fading. None of my counsellors have the power to take control, so it must be you. I am sure that you will make an excellent prince as I return to the earth.”

“Er…” Richard scrabbled for words.

“Take the counsellors with you, to that manor of yours, and they will instruct you in everything necessary. Gareth here will remain here until Samhain.” Lord Henry waved a thin hand at the despondent goblin turning the spit. “Return here then and I will hand over the power. That is all.”

Mike looked at Richard’s shocked face and grabbed his friend’s arm, urging him to his feet. They bowed stiffly to Lord Henry and then Mike dragged Richard back down the tunnel, aware of the elfen trailing behind them. “I told you that you could be a Prince,” he murmured to Richard.

Richard looked at Mike, his face paler than ever. “And what the hell am I going to tell Carol?”

If you are interested in the world this is set in and have questions, you can check ‘The World of the White Hart’ for information or leave a comment. And you can read the story from the start here, Under Dark Hills. I hope you enjoy!

Something Hidden

Paul winced as his Ford Focus bounced over the rugged lane that led to the cottage. It was already dark and the road was terrifying. “I may need to get a new car.”

“I’ll give it a good clean later,” Liz said. “It’ll be better then.”

“I don’t want you to feel you need to do that,” Paul said, out of his depth. “I mean, I’m not paying you that much. Besides, I think if I’m staying here for a while, I need a car that’s a bit more…” he searched for the word. “I think I need something more suited to these roads.”

“You couldn’t do the shopping in a tractor, if that’s what you’re thinking of,” Liz said. “And I bet it’s tricky in winter. I don’t suppose that there’s a rush, though. The farm shops around here seem decent for fresh stuff and the supplies we picked up today should last a while.”

Paul thought of the stuffed boot and the overfilled bags spilling over the back seat. “I would hope so,” he said.

“I could do with some more rags,” Liz said thoughtfully. “I’ll have to have a trip to a charity shop to see what they have to cut up. Do they have jumble sales in this forsaken wilderness?”

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “I’ve not been here that long.”

Liz sniffed. “I’ll ask at the shop. And there’s plenty of soup ready for your guest as well. I put it on before we went out.”

Paul navigated the awkward turn into the yard and stopped before saying anything. “What guest, what soup, and how did you put it on before we went out?”

Liz climbed out of the car. “That guest there, it’s pea and ham soup that will keep you going with all the work that you’re doing, and I brought a slow cooker with me.” She sniffed again. “He can help bring the things in while I get unpacked and set the table – properly!”

Paul frowned as he climbed out. Theo was hanging onto the wall at the front, almost invisible in the dark. He looked scruffier than ever. “He’s not my friend and I didn’t ask him to come,” he said.

Liz looked at Paul, gave Theo a long hard stare and tutted. “You can’t leave him there. He makes the front look untidy. And he may as well be useful. Besides, he looks like he could do with a square meal.”

Before Paul could answer, Liz had taken the first of the bags and marched in through the front door. He braced himself and went over to Theo. “Hi, mate, are you okay?”

Theo looked at him with bleary eyes. “I’m a damned fool.”

Paul was tempted to agree. The man looked drunk and it was barely 8pm. “What’s the matter?”

“I can’t find him anywhere,” Theo said. “I know that he’s near here, but I can’t quite find it.”

“Who is?” Paul asked.

“The vampire,” Theo said. “There’s a vampire around here.”

Paul thought of the locked room full of notes that he was slowly reducing to order. Vampires didn’t even cover a tithe of it. “There’s no such thing as vampires. Listen, why don’t you give me a hand with the bags. Liz said that you can stay for dinner.”

Theo looked wistfully at the cottage. “I usually don’t bother much. I have a sandwich or pizza most nights.”

“It’s homemade soup,” Paul said. “Give me a hand with the bags. I think Liz bought half the supermarket.” He walked back to the car.

Theo walked after him, staggering only a little and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder. “There really is a vampire, you know. I’ve got an old book back at the cottage. Someone wrote it, years ago. There’s a vampire in the hills near Darke Manor. I want to find them.”

Paul’s mind whirled. He handed Paul two shopping bags. “Why?”

“Hm?” Theo hefted the bags and swayed just a little.

“Why do you want to find a vampire?” Paul picked up a couple of bags and headed to the door.

“Want to find one to become one,” Theo said earnestly. “I want to know the secrets. I want to find everything out.”

It took all of Paul’s composure and self-control not to pause. The last thing he needed was Theo finding out about the paper room. He could never allow him to roam around the house. “Okay, let’s say that the vampire is real. What about all the blood? And how will you convince them? I mean, what if they just drain you?”

“I’ve got some charms,” Theo said. “I’ve done all the research.” He strode into the cottage where Liz was waiting in the hall.

“Leave the bags here for me to unpack while you get the next lot,” she said. “I’ve got the kettle on, and I’ve stoked up the fire in the kitchen. If you get the rest of the shopping in and wash your hands, dinner should be nearly ready.”

Theo gave her a charming smile. “Something smells absolutely amazing,” he said. “I’ll get the rest of the bags in a jiffy.”

Paul watched him go out and then turned to look at Liz who was blushing. “Are you alright?”

“I’m just a little warm from rushing around,” she snapped. “Could you bring the rest of the shopping in, please, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”

“Right away,” Paul said, watching her bustle back into the kitchen. He hesitated for a moment before he followed Theo. He was fairly sure that at least two vampires were currently active locally, though he wasn’t sure who they were, and he was confident that they were happily feeding from the local cows. He had to stick with Theo and act like an unknowing side kick. If Theo poked his nose in the wrong places, it could get bad, because it seemed obvious that Theo hadn’t done all research at all. Besides, there was that piece of paper he had found tucked at the back of one of the diaries. It had been crumbling and he had copied it before the fragment disintegrated in his hands. There was another vampire somewhere, one that had retreated to sleep. Paul had the feeling that perhaps it was best that the vampire was undisturbed. If that meant following Theo around and sabotaging him, so be it.

You can read Paul’s story from the beginning here – Under Dark Hills.

And you can also read the first instalment of a series that Three Furies Press is kindly sharing here – Researching, Writing and Rabbit Holes.

Thank you for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment.