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.