You can find the story so far here – Invitation Accepted
He woke up in Gareth’s body and stretched. Last night could have been a lot worse. He threw back the covers and sat up. Pale gold light filtered through the crack in the thin curtains and it looked like it would be a beautiful autumn day. He swung himself out of bed and pulled out the exercise mat and weights. The lad needed to build up some muscles if he was going to get anywhere. Besides, he liked to start the day by getting the blood moving.
Afterwards he stepped into the shower, deep in thought. Last night had been interesting. He’d assumed that the wolfkind had gone with everything else he remembered. Still, at least everyone got out of there without a bite. He let the hot water pound into his back, easing the muscles. The skirmish in the Iron Sickle hadn’t been too strenuous, but things had got a little more active after he saw the rest of the lads into their taxis. He wiped the water from his face and flexed his shoulders. At least his knuckles were finally starting to toughen up.
He stepped out of the shower and dried himself before padding, still naked, into the kitchen. There was too much that he didn’t know. He had a surface knowledge of a lot of things, and that device with the internet was useful, but there were too many important gaps. He made himself a large bowl of porridge with an ample side dish of berries before booting up Gareth’s ancient laptop. The lad would need a new one of these soon, he thought, but that was a problem that could wait. What he needed was information – and he had no idea of where to start.
He poured himself a cup of hot black tea and added sugar with a liberal hand. What he needed was someone who knew more about the old ways, someone who knew about wolfkind and elfen. All the people he once trusted had long since gone to dust. The laptop finally reached the home screen and he checked online local maps. Everything had changed so much. He didn’t even know where to start looking. He scrolled aimlessly around the area, hoping for inspiration. He found it. Of course, if anyone was around it would be there. He drained his mug of tea and stood. He had to get moving while the day was still young.
He parked Gareth’s car at the side of a main road and then walked along the lanes up into the Yorkshire Dales. He picked his way along the narrow road, then branched off onto a barely visible track and over a dip in the hills to a sheltered hollow where he stopped. The structure had changed, but it was still very much the same. A small cottage, now stone, stood a little above the garden that was flowing in ragged patches of strange plants. Even as the wheel of the year turned, the garden was flourishing with strange plants. The scent of mint and elder hung heavily in the air and a wisp of smoke was rising from the chimney. He looked carefully around and pushed open the gate. The thin path wound up towards the cottage between banks of herbs and flowers, giving him time to wonder if he was doing the right thing. Then he was facing the worn wooden door and all choices were gone. He knocked firmly.
The woman who came to the door looked in her mid fifties, with wildly curling hair screwed in a knot at the top of her head. Her oversized earrings swung as she tilted her head and pulled the large cardigan around herself. “Go away,” she said. “I’m not interested in strangers.”
“Look again, Anwen,” he said.
She stared. “It’s Violet these days, actually,” she said and leaned closer. “Bron?”
Bron smiled. “Yep, and I’m just as surprised as you are,” he said.
Violet opened and shut her mouth a few times and then shook her head. “Come in,” she said, holding the door open. “And what do you drink these days?”
“Tea, no milk, four sugars,” Bron said. “It’s good to see you.” He stepped inside the cottage. Of course everything had changed, but in essence, in the soul of the house, it was the same. A loom stood in a corner and drying herbs hung in bunches from the rafters. The seats looked comfortable, stacked with cushions and blankets, and the evil looking tom cat curled in front of the small fire was the same sort of cat that had always found their way there. The books heaped on shelves and on tables were new, and Bron was unfamiliar with knitting, but the same warmth and comfort radiated through the home, filled with the scents of flowers and herbs and good food. “I’m glad you’re still here.”
“Where else would I go?” Violet said as she pulled mugs from a cupboard. “I’m linked to the spring at the back.”
“It doesn’t really stop you, though,” Bron said. “I know your kind travelled.”
Violet ignored that and spooned dried herbs from a jar in one mug, dropping a modern tea bag in another. “And you’re in that poor body,” she said. “No wonder I didn’t recognise you.”
“It’s not my doing, Violet,” Bron said. “I was woken. The first thing I knew was that I was I was being summoned into him. Silly kid didn’t know what he was doing. That was about a month ago.”
“I haven’t heard any wars starting,” Violet said, pouring water from the kettle on the fire. She turned and looked at him. “Except for those drug people.”
Bron grinned widely. “I found them I think the first or second night I was back. One of them tried to mug me. I mean, this kid had the muscle strength of unspun wool but I could still sort them out.” He took the tea from Violet. “Then I found that one lot was blaming the other and that there was already bad blood, so I took advantage.”
“A lot of cash has been stolen, apparently,” Violet said.
“Well, I’m more expensive than the kid knows,” Bron said. “But with that and a few other jobs here and there, I’ve got some money.”
“I’m not sure that I want to ask,” Violet said primly. She sat in the small armchair next to the fire.
Bron sat opposite her. “So much has changed,” he said. “And I’m adrift in the world. I thought that your kind, or rather, those akin to your kind, had gone. Then I went to the Iron Sickle last night.”
Violet froze for a moment before taking a very small sip of her herbal tea. “How did that go?”
“I avoided the teeth,” Bron said. “I went with a group of lads from the kid’s workplace, and we all got out in one piece. I don’t know what they made of it all.” He took a mouthful of tea. “I’ll find out on Monday, I suppose. But I need to speak to the Defender.”
Violet looked at Bron thoughtfully. “Could you wait one moment, please?” she asked.
Bron nodded and sat back, sipping his tea. He remembered this of old. Violet wasn’t bad as nature spirits went, but she had her own way of doing things that couldn’t be rushed. She had always had a fondness for him, and in truth he had always had a soft spot for her, but she was still unpredictable and there was often a price for information. At least they had come to an agreement about food and drink. Bron looked down at his tea. He hoped that still held.
For a few moments Violet appeared wreathed in an iridescent blue shimmer, her eyes thoughtful as she stared down at her tea. Then the shimmer faded and she looked up. “You died three thousand years ago,” she said. “You are sharing a body with another soul. And I fear that you are needed.” She frowned. “There is so much to tell you!”
“I was hoping that you could tell me where to find the Defender,” Bron said. “It should be his job.”
Violet shook her head. “They’re called Paladins these days,” she said. “And there isn’t one now. There was some trouble a few years back and it got complicated.” She trailed off. “There isn’t a proper Prince, either, what you used to call Dark Kings. Lord Skyrack got caught in a fight he couldn’t manage and he disappeared. The Paladin died, but no new one came.”
“Who’s dealing with the hounds like the ones I found in the Iron Sickle, then?” Bron asked. “Wolfkind can’t go unchecked, Violet, not with this many people around.”
“You remember Lord Marius, don’t you?” Violet asked.
“He’s the new Dark King?” Bron said, surprised. “Mind you, he was always crafty with sorcery for an elfen.”
“It’s ‘Prince’ and not ‘Dark King’, and yes, it’s him,” Violet said. “But it’s not official. It’s been six score years or more since Skyrack fell and we haven’t had a Paladin or Prince since then. Normally Lord Marius would instruct the leader of the local pack.” Violet sighed. “That’s Mark Davis, but his wife is sick and he’s not holding things together as he should. Besides, they spend their time in Leeds and don’t bother coming out to the edges half the time.”
“The wolfkind in the Iron Sickle were acting like a pack,” Bron said. “And they weren’t exactly playing like puppies. They need to be put down. Would this Mark Davis do it?”
Violet wrinkled her nose. “He’d want to and make the right noises,” she said. “He might get the pack together, but they’re not at the top of their game. He’d have a fit if elfen or vampires got involved, though.”
“So who do they go to if there isn’t a Defender?” Bron asked.
“It’s a Paladin, not a Defender,” Violet said with a sigh. “And there are people called the Knights Templar. They’re okay, but if they deal with the strays at the Iron Sickle without clearing it with Mark first, there’ll be problems.”
“This Mark Davis,” Bron said. “He’s not holding the pack together, he’s not leading the werewolves in the area, he’s not protecting his territory, he’s not getting rid of the mutts but he’ll throw a tantrum if someone else does his job. What’s gone wrong? And why isn’t another one of the things challenging for leadership?”
“Things are different,” Violet said. “But that’s not all of it.” She looked down at her cooling mug of herbal tea. “You were buried with the Orache Stone, and I helped to weave the magic over your tomb to keep you and it undisturbed. You have woken and the Orache Stone has been taken.”
Bron ran a weary hand over his face. “I remember how hard it was to get that thing buried,” he said. “I remember what it was like.”
“So do I,” Violet said. “I remember even after all these years. We need to find your tomb.”
Bron drove them up to Otley Chevin and parked in a small carpark. “Around here, I think,” he said.
“How did you learn to drive?” Violet asked, getting out of the car.
Bron spread his hands in bewilderment. “Some things are just there, like the kid’s memories of driving and the internet and stuff. And I’ve got a sense of how things should be,” he said. “Just don’t press me for too many details.”
Violet laughed and then looked him over. “You haven’t forgotten everything?” she asked, flirtation in her eyes. “I wonder how you could do with a fresh young body but all that passionate experience.”
“Behave yourself,” Bron said, grinning back. “And the lad’s setting up to have a date with a woman that he likes so I don’t want his body to be seen with anyone else.” He looked at her thoughtfully, remembering past times. “Not that I’m not tempted,” he added.
Violet pouted but nodded up the hill. “You were buried up here,” she said. “It was a lovely leave-taking. Everyone came, even Lord Skyrack, and the feast ran for three days.”
Bron stood for a moment, looking up the hill. “Everyone’s gone,” he said. “My wife and sons have long been dust, and the friends in the Brotherhood gone with them.” He looked back at Violet. “You’re the first familiar face that I’ve seen for a long while. And nothing sounds the same or looks the same…” He looked back up the hill. “But if the Orache Stone has been brought back into the world, the same problems will come knocking at our door.”
“It’s not really your fight,” Violet said. “You fought your battles a long time ago – and fought them well. You deserve your rest.”
Bron walked up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “If I don’t fight then who will?”
The climb to the site of the old barrow was steep and they were both out of breath when they reached the top. “At least you gave me a good view in death,” Bron said.
“Everyone knew,” Violet said. “They all knew the battles you fought.”
“I would have fought even if they hadn’t,” Bron said. “But it made it easier, them remembering.” He looked over the valley towards Otley. For a moment he was lost in distant memories before he brought his attention back to the present. “Speaking of remembering – how many knew about the Orache Stone? Was it common knowledge?”
Violet shook her head. “Lord Skyrack still had some sense then. He forbade anyone to mention it. The mortals forgot within a generation or two, and the werewolves and the boggarts that knew died out and there was no memory.”
Bron frowned. “How did you know it had gone, and how could they have found it?” he asked.
“I felt the disruption of my magic,” Violet said. “But it’s been a while since I cast that enchantment on your resting place. I was trying to remember what I had hidden and I only worked it out last week.”
“When did you first feel it?” Bron asked.
Violet frowned and looked over the view. It was quiet and dog walkers could be heard in the distance over the surrounding birdsong. The air was crisp and clear and the soft breeze ruffled the fading grasses. “It was nearer Midsummer,” she said. “No, wait…” The soft blue shimmer enveloped her and Bron jumped lightly onto a rock to keep watch. The blue shimmer faded and Violet nodded. “It was the week after Lughnasadh,” she said. “I remember that the weather was warm and it was too dry.”
“So that was the beginning of August,” Bron said thoughtfully, jumping back down. “The lad summoned me at the end of September, and it’s now nearly Samhain.” He grimaced. “Or Halloween as they call it. Who ever has it has a start on us. We still need to know how it was found.”
Violet shrugged. “People scry for all sorts of things these days,” she said. “And it depends on who’s found it. Apart from the drug people, I’ve not heard of any trouble.”
“It could have been taken out of the area,” Bron said. “Or it may not be violent.”
“If it isn’t violent now then it will be soon,” Violet said darkly. “And it will stay close to this place. The power of the Orache Stone is tied to these hills just as I am tied to the spring.”
“It could be the wolfkind, the werewolves,” Bron said. “It looked like a lot of lordless beasts had been dragged into a pack.”
Violet shuddered. “That could go bad very quickly,” she said. “But you can’t call them beasts anymore. You have to say non-normal. It’s a matter of respect.”
“I don’t think I’d respect any thing that did half the stuff I fought against all those years ago,” Bron said. “But I’ll behave.” He frowned as he looked at the broken barrow. Age had not been kind to his resting place and he could see the evidence of dirt being scratched away before new grass grew around it. “I need to speak to these Knights Templar. They’ll need to know what to expect. How can I meet them?”
“I’ll set up a meet,” Violet said. “But I want something in return.”
Bron narrowed his eyes. “What do you want?” he asked. “And will it hurt?”
Violet laughed and pulled her hair free. As she shook her head, she changed before him. The years fell from her and now there was a young woman with dark, deep eyes and black, shining ringlets. “Do you remember those days by the tarn?” she asked. “We spent such time and did such things! You married when your father told you that you should, and you were a good and loyal husband to your wife, but she was never your first love. Indulge my memories with that young body. Spend the weekend with me in my cottage and… remember your first love. If you do, I’ll set up the meeting.”
Bron felt his borrowed body stirring at the memories but he shook his head. “In all these years, you’ve not learned to think first,” he said gently. “Can you imagine your pain if you thought that any caresses from me were part of a bargain instead of genuine desire? You’d lose your mind.”
Violet stared at Bron with huge, pain-filled eyes before turning away. “You’re right,” she whispered. “You always were. You always kept me safe.”
“And you’d be there for me even if I didn’t keep the bargain,” Bron said. “You always were good at heart.”
“Don’t tell everyone!” Violet said quickly, getting back some of her spark as her eyes gleamed with laughter.
“Why don’t we go back to your cottage and spend some time…” Bron let his gaze linger over the spirit until she blushed. “We’ll spend some time remembering just for the sake of old times, and then next week you can perhaps set up a meeting with these Knights Templar because it’s the right thing to do. Are they safe? I mean, are they safe for you?”
“As long as I behave,” Violet said. “You would be surprised how uneventful things are now.”
“If a pack of stray werewolves has got hold of the Orache Stone then that will change quick enough,” Bron said grimly. “There’ll be more than enough excitement to go around.”
This story refers to a background that you can find in my White Hart series. You can find out about the world of the White Hart here and you can read some of the old short stories from that world here.
If you have any thoughts or comments, I would love to hear from you. The next instalment will be out next week.