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. “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.

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