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.”

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