At the beginning of January 2020, I was privileged enough to become one of the authors at Three Furies press – and it was an absolute honour. They were, and still are, awesome people. The first thing they published from me was Out of the London Mist which was a steampunk novel that I wrote after accidentally stumbling into the genre. They were patient, generous with their time and incredibly, wonderfully helpful.
This was followed by Under the Bright Saharan Sky which I enjoyed writing so much. The encouragement I had from Three Furies made it soar. They encouraged character development when I wasn’t certain, helped me get a grip on my research and made everything so easy for me.
And then it was King’s Silver where they kept my sanity and enjoyed the journey just as much as I did. They threw ideas around with me, encouraged me and helped me dance with all the crazy plans for the sequels.
Over time they encouraged me, calmed me, grounded me, helped me punctuate dialogue and were there for me when my health and personal life hit turbulent times. They were more than editors and it was more than a business contract. These, and the authors that they encouraged, are amazing people and I am privileged to know them. There are so many horror stories around independent publishing and so many stories of bad faith, but this was a publisher that kept their word, they stood by their authors and they were straightforward, decent human beings.
Due to no fault of their work as publishers, Three Furies Press has had to close. I’m devastated for them, and feeling more than a little lost. You will see no links in the paragraphs above because while my self published work will still be kicking around on Amazon, those stories above are being taken down with the closure of Three Furies Press.
They have been as gracious and generous as ever, so I have all the documents, and the stories will return in some form and at some date, though I’m not sure when. I think it will be a while, for me, as I am grieving.
Rhys tapped on Mark’s office door. “Are you there, boss?”
“Come in,” Mark said. He ran a tired hand over his face and waved Rhys to a seat. “Did you get away from the new site okay?”
“Everything’s going fine,” Rhys said, sitting down. “The wiring is finally up to code on the new build and the bathroom rebuilds at the hotel are going as planned. The business is doing fine. You can concentrate on Claire. How is she doing?”
Mark grimaced. “She had a bad night,” he said. “And I don’t think that she’s being honest about how much she’s hurting.”
“I’m sorry, boss,” Rhys said. “I wish there was something we could do.”
“The world doesn’t stop, though, does it,” Mark said. “You’ve kept the business on track, and I’m grateful. But now we have some pack business. I want you to let the lads know that we need to take down a pack of strays near Otley.”
Rhys frowned. “I’ve been hearing some stuff about that,” he said. “And a few of the lads were wondering when we were going up there. They need dealing with.”
Mark scowled. “What are they saying? That I can’t keep up with stuff? I’m still the pack leader, and I make the decisions.” He glared at the younger werewolf opposite him. “So I’m leading everyone tonight. We’ll have a sniff around, put down any strays that won’t behave and then get a few beers at the clubhouse.”
Rhys looked at his uncle thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should lead them,” he said. “If Claire’s not well, then you should be with her at home.”
“Claire is going to be staying with the women at the clubhouse,” Mark said. “Lord Marius has been talking about some sort of stone, I don’t know. He said that it had been pulled out of a barrow. The elfen are always getting their panties in a twist over stuff, but I want the women and cubs to be safe.”
Rhys searched for the right words. “Boss, you know that we’re loyal to you, and I don’t want to show disrespect, but you’re not the same as you were. I mean, you’ve been caught up with Claire and everything,” he said. “You’ve got run down and you’re not getting any younger.”
“I can still knock the fur off you, or any other cub in this pack,” Mark snarled. “And don’t you forget it! Do you think that I’m going to step aside for some whelp that barely knows up from down just because I’ve got some issues. I’m still the head of this pack and this trip will be a good chance to remind people. Tell everyone that we’re meeting at the clubhouse and that we’ll be leaving at 7pm – sharp!”
Mark watched his nephew leave and then waited for a moment. His excellent hearing picked up the sound of Rhys’ car leaving the car park and nodded to himself. After checking that his wife was asleep, he let his secretary know that he was going out and then climbed into his well-kept Range Rover. He didn’t trust the Knights Templar, and he wasn’t going to let Lord Marius push into a pack matter. But there were other people he could ask. He drove up to the speed limit but in complete control and, after a quick stop at the supermarket, was soon pulling up at the bottom of the lane that led to Violet’s cottage.
Violet looked like she had been crying when she opened the door. “I’m not feeling very well today,” she said. “Perhaps you should come back later.”
“I’ve brought gifts,” Mark said, holding up a cloth bag. “I’ve brought Muscovado sugar, vodka and a plant.” He handed over a rather bedraggled supermarket African violet, followed by the bag.
Violet looked at him warily. “I suppose you can come in,” she said. “But I don’t know if I can grant any boons.” Her expression softened a little. “But I may have some teas that could help Claire. They won’t cure anything,” she hastened to add. “But they may make her feel a little better.”
Mark managed a strained smile. “That’s appreciated,” he said. “But I think you can grant boons. I want to hear about the Orache Stone.”
Violet stared at him, frozen on the doorstep. She took a deep breath and then stepped back to let Mark in. “Come in and sit down,” she said. “I’ll make you a cup of tea without obligation. I need a moment to think.”
Mark followed her in and looked around. The cottage was darker and dustier than he remembered, but it was still warm and calm. He sat in a comfortable armchair near the fire and leant back against the crocheted throw. “Thank you,” he said.
Violet held a finger to her lips and then bustled around, swinging the kettle over the fire in the hearth and then bustling around with mugs and teabags. She sniffed the pack of muscovado sugar and shivered in a type of pleasure before putting it on a shelf in an alcove. The large bottle of vodka was quickly slipped into a pail of cold water and the plant was tenderly misted with water and placed in a brighter corner. Then she poured the hot water into the mugs and, after adding milk to Mark’s mug, set them down on the cluttered table next to Mark. “Wait there one moment,” she said. “I’ll be straight back.” Then she vanished.
Mark waited as patiently as he could for the next fifteen minutes, sipping the excellent tea and enjoying the crackle of the fire. He knew Violet couldn’t be rushed. She’d been fading for a while now, he knew, but she could give him the answers he needed. He looked up as she returned and was shocked at how pale she looked. “Are you okay?” he asked, standing up.
Violet nodded. “I’m fine and I have made some choices,” she said. “The Orache Stone was a great evil. A truly desperate evil and the elfen who made it was tortured for a year and a day before he died. And that was the right thing,” she added. “There was a lot of blood spilled. But things were different then. It’s true that the wolfkind, the werewolves, were the ones who had the stone, and I think that it calls most to them.” She sank down on her chair and gazed at the fire. “The Orache Stone grants great power and authority. Lord Skyrack took the name of its creator, but I remember something of them. They knew so much and it was, I think, perhaps as much of a mistake as it was malice.” She sighed softly and took a small sip of her tea. “The Orache Stone grants power, that much I remember. And it can bring truly great power. In return, it takes its owner’s soul, scrap by scrap and sending them gradually insane.”
“It sounds more like a curse than a blessing,” Mark said as he sat back down again.
“It was,” Violet said softly. For a moment her face twisted as she struggled to recall events three thousand years old. “It wasn’t given to the pack leader,” she said. “But to a wolf named…” She looked at Mark and he could see the blue haze in her eyes. “They were called Verak, and they had always been fretful. They were never strong enough to challenge for the leadership but always envious of power. They used the power of the Orache Stone and took the pack in a bloody fight. But it didn’t stop there. Because of the hunger for power, Verak took over a neighbouring pack as well, in Leodis, where you are now, and were talking about taking over the villages of men. But the Orache Stone took too much of their soul and they went mad. A woman named…” Once again Violet paused. “I think that she was called Ina or Ena, stole it from Verak as he foamed at his mouth. She also wanted power. She took many lovers and she ripped the throats out of any that opposed her. The stone’s power grew, and Ina’s mind failed and her daughter took it, and I don’t know if I ever knew her name. But before she had a chance to truly lose her soul, Bron came.” Violet shivered. “He gave her a chance to give up the stone, and when she didn’t, he killed her.”
Mark slowly and carefully moved over to place a gentle hand on Violet’s shoulder. “I can see that you loved Bron.”
Violet’s mouth twisted. “I loved him, I always loved him, even after I thought that he was dead. But he turned away from me. He was faithful to her even though he didn’t love her. He stayed away from me. Then he died slowly.” A tear slid down Violet’s cheek.
“I’m so sorry,” Mark said. “I didn’t mean to bring back painful memories.”
“And now that he is back in that new, fresh, vigorous body, he is holding back because Gareth has eyes for a mortal, a normal,” Violet said bitterly. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t love him so much if he didn’t have so much honour in him, so much steel in his soul.” She shook her head and forced a smile. “But enough of me and my old and dusty sorrows. I may be fading but I can still make a few guesses about your request. You want to know if the Orache Stone can heal Claire.”
“I could never hide anything from you,” Mark said.
Violet patted his cheek. “I always had a soft spot for a werewolf,” she said. She looked thoughtful, then away and into the fire. “I don’t know if it can heal Claire,” she said. “But I know it has more power than the elfen intended. And I’m not sure about their intention.” She leaned forward and put another log on the fire, watching it settle into the embers. “The people who held the Orache Stone before only wanted power. You have power, and you only want healing for Claire. You may be able to turn the power to healing.”
“You think that there’s even a chance?” Mark asked.
Violet nodded. “I can hear how desperate you are. There is a chance, but no guarantee. And you could still lose your soul, your mind, if you don’t stop soon enough. It’s a lot of risk for no certainty.” She looked at him. “But you would do anything for Claire, wouldn’t you? Just like Bron would for me, before he obeyed his father. If you get the Orache Stone, I’ll help you redirect the power. Away from Lord Marius, I’m probably the only one that can do this.” She held up an imperative finger. “But you must do everything you can to get Carli Sykes out of Bron’s life. Get one of your young dogs to seduce her, get her compromised. Break her car so she can’t meet him or sabotage her job.” Violet turned and looked hard into Mark’s eyes. “If necessary, kill her. Because the deal is that you get Claire, and I get Bron. Do you understand this bargain?”
Mark met her gaze without flinching. “For Claire,” he said. “I understand.”
The last few weeks have been more turbulent than average for me. This has led to two problems. On one hand, I’ve found less time for writing. On the other hand, I’m getting distracted and I am far too easily distracted at the best of times. It’s not a great combination.
Today I should be sharing Invitation Accepted Chapter Seven as well as the collection of short stories Whisper in the Shadows. Neither are ready and I sincerely apologise. However I am tidying up the last bits of both of them and they should both be ready in the next few days. Chaos is still continuing here, but I can see my way through it. I hate failing the wonderful people who are kind enough to read my work. I will share my work as soon as it’s in a fit state to be seen, and hopefully soon.
Meanwhile I’d like to share one of my favourite poems. I copied it out and pinned it to the wall when I was a teenager and the delight of it has never left me.
Sir Dylan never felt entirely comfortable in Lord Marius’ pocket domain under Quarry Hill in the centre of Leeds. He was too aware that he wasn’t exactly in the real, human, normal world and that the wide mansion and sweeping gardens were artificial illusions that hung on the whim of an elfen – a crazed, psychopathic, unpredictable, unreasonable elfen. Still, it could be worse. He had heard horror stories from other parts of the UK and there were definitely worse elfen than Lord Marius.
He sat at the polished table in the small council chamber and shifted uneasily in his seat. Elfen were the old elves and fairies, the ones that stole children, blighted crops and lured travellers into marshes. He had never got much sense out of them, but Lord Marius was as near to reasonable as they were going to get. He wasn’t keen on boggarts either. They were ridiculously strong, violent and lacked all impulse control. He’d seen boggarts throw cars at each other for fun. Some of the most feared loan sharks and drug lords were boggarts. Phil Neston wasn’t too bad, though, when it came down to it. He wasn’t bothering with a glamour as he across the table from Sir Dylan and the long, fur-covered, rangy limbs were sprawled as he watched the figures around the table. He looked like a monster from a nightmare as his fangs gleamed in the soft lamplight. Appearances were deceptive, though. While Phil may be the most feared boggart in Leeds and able to keep the locals in order, he was known for keeping a cool head and taking a long view. He grew prize vegetables in his allotment in Roundhay.
Werewolves had always been a natural ally, in Sir Dylan’s experience. They were usually steady, in favour of good order and could be relied on to take a sensible view and not rock the boat. The few strays and mutts that caused trouble on the fringes rarely reached the attention of the local paladin or Knights Templar because a pack dealt with problems in its own, often scarily savage, way. So why was the usually steady pack leader the least stable at this meeting? Mark Davis looked haunted and hollow eyed as he sat at the table, staring blankly into space.
“Sir Dylan, are you sure of this?” Lord Marius asked.
Sir Dylan nodded. “I went with them to The Iron Sickle and it was bad,” he said. He looked across at the werewolf. “I had to use silver, Mark. I’m sorry.”
Mark barely looked up. “If it was necessary, then you did right,” he said.
“How is your wife doing?” Phil asked gently.
Mark shivered. “At least the chemo has finished,” he said. “It’s just radiotherapy now. And she’s responding well.”
“That’s good,” Phil said. “And they can do so much with modern medicine these days, even for non-normals.”
Mark nodded. “But it’s because she wasn’t born in fur,” he said. “I converted her but it left her vulnerable. Sometimes this type of cancer hits those not born in fur hardest.”
“You can’t blame yourself,” Phil said with kind firmness. “Sometimes stuff just happens. Listen, I know that you want to spend time with your wife, and I know that Claire is relying on you. Why don’t you leave this to Rhys? He can take the pack, have a sniff around and get it all sorted.”
Mark managed a glare. “Rhys isn’t going to take them anywhere because I’m the leader of the pack, not him.”
Lord Marius smiled thinly. “You’re the leader for now,” he said.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Mark snapped.
“I told you about this spirit, didn’t I?” Sir Dylan said. “Let me see if I can repeat at least part of what he said. Something like – if you’re not dealing with these strays and you’re not letting anyone else deal with the strays, what are you good for?”
Mark lunged at Sir Dylan, but Phil was ready for him. “Take it easy,” Phil said, blocking the werewolf. “We’re in council, not a boxing ring.”
“And he talked about the Orache Stone,” Sir Dylan said. “It’s some sort of power, but like a curse. It seems to pull the crazies together because when we went to The Iron Sickle, we barely got out in one piece. There’s something holding those mutts together – and I’m using the word properly, Mark. They are strays, they are druggies, they are drinkers, they are bad, bad people. If they get out of control, it’s going to be nasty. Are you going to do something, or do I have to call the Knights Templar in. I can’t deal with it on my own. I could barely manage to get out of there with Bron as my backup.”
“Tell me about Bron,” Phil said. “He’s just some spirit that ended up with a time share in the skinny body of an office junior, right?”
Sir Dylan looked straight into Phil’s deep, dark eyes. “Bron scares me,” he said. “He’s put muscle on the lad over the last month, but there’s still not much of him. It doesn’t matter. He’s got years of experience, he’s fast, he’s clever and he will never, ever give up. I wouldn’t take him on in a scrap. And I’m telling you, Phil, that he’d take on a boggart without hesitation – and I wouldn’t bet against him. He fights nasty and it’s what got us out of The Iron Sickle.” He looked back to Mark. “Bron killed three of those werewolves,” he said. “He slit their throats with a silver knife and he didn’t even flinch. If the numbers had been more even, he would have taken out more. He did you a favour. You should be nice to him.”
“The Orache Stone?” Lord Marius said. He stood slowly and started pacing. “You are sure that is what he said?”
Sir Dylan looked at him narrowly. “You know about it?”
Lord Marius held up a hand and for a moment a brief blue glow enfolded him before he nodded. Suddenly he looked older. “Bron,” he said. “The spirit’s name is Bron and he was…” Lord Marius shook his head. “You would call him a paladin now. He was mighty and feared nothing or no-one. He seduced an elfen, all those years ago, then obeyed his father and married a mortal, a normal. It was heart-breaking to see Anwen fall to pieces over it. I don’t think that she ever recovered.”
Sir Dylan exchanged an uneasy glance with Phil. “He identified himself as Bron, and Violet, from the Dales above Otley, said that they had been lovers. And when we were in Kirkstall Abbey, you could see the glow of the paladin on him, except it was only when Bron was in control. When it was Gareth Peterson, there was nothing.” Sir Dylan hesitated. “Could he be a paladin for Leeds?”
Lord Marius shook his head. “He was only ever the defender of the small area around Otley and north to Norwood and Addingham. But he was fierce.” He looked hard at Mark. “If you don’t take care of these strays, then he will.”
“He has no right!” Mark snapped.
“I think that he has every right if you won’t step up,” Sir Dylan snapped back.
Lord Marius slapped his hand hard on the table. “If the Orache Stone is back, then we all have to take action. We can’t be caught by it.”
“Is it really that bad?” Sir Dylan said. “I mean, it’s brought order to some strays, and I was glad to get out of there, but how bad can it be?”
“Last time it was war,” Lord Marius said. “The Orache stone ran through the wolfkind pack, even through those who should have been better. It brought blood and fire to all the villages and ripped and tore the domain of Lord Skyrack. There was a reason he forbade all to mention the stone. He didn’t want any mortal, any normal, trying to find it.” His eyes were haunted as he looked around the table. “It was a dark time. The elfen who created it, he did out of malice.” Lord Marius frowned. “I can’t remember his name, I think it was taken from us all by Lord Skyrack. I know that Lord Skyrack tortured him for a year and a day as a warning before killing him. And many thought that the elfen had escaped lightly.” There was a long silence.
“Bloody hell,” Phil said eventually. “How did you deal with it?”
“We needed a defender,” Lord Marius said softly. “And Bron answered the call. He fought the last wolfkind that possessed the Orache Stone and killed her, and was the only one with the strength of will to resist picking it up. He died in pain and the Orache Stone was buried with him. Anwen cast enchantments over it, but they must have faded. I think that she is fading.”
“I think she had a new lease of life with Bron last weekend,” Sir Dylan said dryly. “But while I wouldn’t turn my back on Bron if I thought he was after me, he’s still just a skinny kid. The will might be there, but he can’t take on a rogue pack.”
“I’ll deal with them,” Mark said abruptly.
“Have you been listening to a word that’s been said?” Phil asked.
Mark pushed himself to his feet. “This is a werewolf problem and I will provide a werewolf solution,” he said. “Excuse me.” They watched him stalk out.
Phil looked at Lord Marius. “You need to get him back,” he said.
Lord Marius was still pale. “I have always allowed the werewolves their boundaries,” he said. “They have been loyal, capable defenders and good counsellors. I can’t get in his way.”
“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” Phil said.
Sir Dylan nodded. “And from the sound of it, he’ll get taken by the damned stone as well.”
“That is what happened before,” Lord Marius said. He took a deep breath. “Sir Dylan, call on all the aid you can. Tell them that Lord Marius is rousing Leeds to war. Tell them to bring silver.”
Phil nodded. “I’ll get the word out to my lot as well,” he said.
“And I will meet with Bron,” Lord Marius said. “It will be good to see him after all this time.”
Carli smiled at Surjit. “I can’t believe how this day is racing by,” she said. “I’ve been unpacking and I’ve finally got to the colour charts and I keep forgetting to bring them in from the car.”
“Do you need a hand?” Surjit said. “It’s quiet here at the moment and I could do with stretching my legs.”
“Thanks, that would be a help,” Carli said. “They aren’t heavy, but there’s a few boxes.”
“Of course, you moved up from Birmingham, didn’t you?” Surjit said. “Have you found somewhere nice yet?”
Carli wrinkled her nose. “I’m not sure about that,” she said. “I’m in a grotty flat near Elland Road, but it’s a start and I can find somewhere now that I can look around properly.”
Surjit followed her out to the neat Ford. “So, you and Gareth then?” she said. “Are you dating or what?”
Carli looked at her and shook her head. “Gossip – the only thing known to science that travels faster than light,” she said with a grin. She glanced a little shyly up at the offices. “I don’t know. He bought me dinner last night, but we were mostly working.”
Surjit looked appalled. “He took you for dinner and all you did was talk about work!” she said. “That’s awful! I thought he would be better than that.”
“It wasn’t meant to be a date, really,” Carli said, blushing a little, “but it was…” she thought about meeting the burly Sir Dylan and all the oddness that went with it. “I think if it was a proper date then it would be different.”
“Tell me!” Surjit said with a grin as Carli opened the car.
“He’s sort of old fashioned,” Carli said. “I mean, he opened the car door for me and that sort of stuff. I’m not used to that.”
“He’s always been polite,” Surjit said. “I mean, he always says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when I’m handing over the post and stuff, but these last few months, he’s been something else.”
Carli felt the blush growing. “He’s been very sweet,” she said. “And the ideas he’s got are amazing. It’s really fed back into some ideas for designs, and that’s why I need the shades.” She started piling small boxes into Surjit’s arms. “I wish I lived somewhere nicer. I would definitely ask him to come and do some work at my flat.”
“You wouldn’t!” Surjit crowed in delight. “You should just go for it.”
Carli shook her head. “Not unless I was somewhere nicer,” she said. “I mean, what would he think?”
“From what I heard, he doesn’t live anywhere fancy either,” Surjit said.
“And where exactly is that?” a voice said behind them.
For a moment the women froze, then Carli slowly turned around. The man standing so confidently between them and the door to the mill was tall, lean and had a mocking smile on his dirty face. It looked like blood smeared on his thin jogging bottoms and his hoodie was ragged. Carli swallowed. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean, where does the boy wonder live?” the man asked. “I’d like a word with him.”
“Who are you?” Surjit whispered.
“You can call me sir,” he said. “But you can tell the lad that my name is Fang and I’m waiting here for him.” He glanced at Carli. “I’ll wait over there behind the bin store and out of sight of all those interfering cameras. This girlfriend can stay with me to catch his interest, and I won’t lay a paw on her until after our conversation – if he’s quick. So run, girlie, and fetch the boy wonder now.”
Carlie caught Surjit’s eye. “Don’t say his name,” she said. “Just go and get him.” She could see the panic rising in Surjit. “You can do this. You can keep your cool and take the message now.” Surjit nodded, turned and ran into the mill.
Carli stumbled behind Fang as he dragged her around the corner. “You are going to be in so much trouble,” she gasped.
“Nope,” Fang said. “I’m just tidying up some loose ends.” He grinned humourlessly at her and licked his lips. “We’ll deal with that skinny boyfriend of yours and then I’ll show you a whole new world. One that you’ll never want to leave.”
“Surjit will call the police, you know,” Carli said, struggling to sound fierce. “You won’t be able to get away with anything.”
“The police will have to learn,” Fang said. He leaned towards Carli and her stomach churned at the stink of his breath. “I’ve got the power,” he said. “I listened to the pup that slept on top of the barrow and I dug it out. I’m the pack leader now. I’m in charge.” He leaned back. “I’ve got the stone of power. And I’m feeling a lack of bitches, if you know what I mean.”
“No,” Carli said. “I’m not available.”
Without warning, Fang backhanded her across the face. “You will learn to be available,” he snarled. He looked up. “But here’s lover boy. Nothing like a quick snack to get you in the mood, not that there’s much meat on him.”
Carli fought back a sob. This was Gareth, striding across the car park in just his office clothes. He wasn’t even wearing a tie, just a thin jacket over his shirt. She stilled for a moment. He hadn’t been wearing a jacket earlier. It looked like an old one that didn’t fit properly across the shoulders. She caught Fang’s suspicious glance. “Don’t you dare touch him.”
Fang laughed. “What are you going to do? Are you going to knit all over me?” He chucked and worked his shoulders. “Get on your knees and face the wall.”
“No!” Carli cried. Gareth was almost here and she was desperate to distract Fang. “And you can’t make me.”
Fang grabbed her by the hair. “I said, on your knees facing that wall!”
Carli cried out as he swung her around but she saw Gareth approaching and kicked hard at Fang’s knee. He swore and backhanded her again. She crashed against the wall, dazed from his blow and staring at Gareth with his jacket now wrapped around his arm and a knife in front of him.
“Get away from her,” snapped Bron. Carli recognised the sound of the spirit and relief flowed through her. She pushed herself a little clear of the wall and looked around for anything she could use to help.
“Who the hell are you?” Fang asked. He stood a little away from Carli, working his shoulders and sizing Bron up. “You walk into my bar and cause trouble. You interfere with my sweet date. And you walk out of that mill like you own me. Bad mistake.”
Bron didn’t answer but darted in towards Fang, swinging high at his face. Fang snarled and snapped his growing teeth at Bron who caught the attempted bite easily on his jacket-wrapped arm. Bron tangled the jacket around Fang’s head and stepped closer, slicing into him with the knife. Fang howled and fell back, tearing the jacket. “You’ve brought silver, you bastard!” Fang yelled. He glanced behind Bron to where Syed and Jed were leading out the lads from the warehouse and the factory floor, yelling wildly. “I’ll rip your throat out right now!” Fang growled, leaking blood from the slash across his chest and blocking Bron’s swing.
“I don’t think so,” said a new voice. Lord Marius seemed to appear from nothing, standing between Bron and Fang. He held out a hand and the air shimmered between them. “I am the Prince here.”
“Not for much longer,” Fang growled, pulling out a small stone and pushing it back at Lord Marius.
Lord Marius swore loud and long as he skidded backwards. He struggled to keep his feet before gesturing again at Fang.
Fang snarled and his eyes glowed red as he held the stone in front of him. Bron took the chance and stabbed upwards but Fang flinched back, falling hard against the wall next to Carli. “I’ll be back before you know it,” he gasped.
“Not here,” Lord Marius said. “And you will leave when I permit it!”
Fang flung a hand out at Lord Marius and the air exploded. Steam swirled and rolled over Bron, Carli and Lord Marius who were thrown back by the blast. When the steam dissipated, Fang was gone.
Bron shook his head to try and clear the ringing in his ears. He walked slowly to Carli who was wide eyed and hunched against the wall. “Are you okay, lass?” he asked gently. Bron looked at Lord Marius. “I have work to do,” he said flatly. “I’ll meet you here at six in the evening.” He turned back to Carli and gently helped her to stand. As Syed rushed up Bron nodded. “I’m glad that you have our backs,” he said. “It should be okay, but I’m taking Carli home.”
“He’s from The Iron Sickle, isn’t he?” Syed asked.
Bron shrugged as he carefully took Carli’s arm to steer her to his car. “He’s probably headed back there now,” he said. “But I think he’s been frightened off.”
“I shall speak with your master, Luke Ossett,” Lord Marius said as he dusted himself down. “He knows me.” He looked at Syed, Jed and the rest of them. “This place will be protected.” He glanced back at Bron. “It will be very well protected indeed.”
It’s nearly a quarter of the way through the year and I’m actually feeling quite energised. I have to give some credit to Joshua Pantalleresco and his wonderful encouragement when I was on his podcast (you can find it here). I also feel restless, which is never a good sign. I fragment with too many ideas if I don’t keep myself in check.
I am going to take a massive risk and share plans. Anyone who knows me is probably either wincing or sniggering because my conversion rate of plans is pretty low, but I want to give a heads up on a few things.
You may have noticed that I have new covers for Forgotten Villageand Digging up the Past from the amazing people at Getcovers.com. I re-edited and re-formatted both of them and actually put in chapters. This is a giant leap forward in my ability to format. In the next few months I plan to go through all of my self-published books to tidy them up and get decent covers. Some of them may finally get into paperback form. As a part of this, on 30th April I will be taking down Under Dark Hillsand Dark Picture from my blog, tidying them up, smoothing them into a novel and giving them lovely new covers before publishing as an ebook and paperback a few months later, probably both in the same volume, possibly bound with Across a Misty Bridge.
Later this month I will be publishing a collection of slightly darker short stories called A Whisper in the Shadows. Some have been previously posted on this blog, but I’ve taken down so that they can be part of the collection. There’s some new material as well, of course, to make it fair. That will also be available in ebook and paperback form, but the paperback could be delayed because I am technically inept.
I am having a blast writing Invitation Accepted and the plan is that the story will also eventually end up as an ebook and paperback, but we will see how that goes.
I’m working on my productivity, so watch this space for hopefully plenty of new stories. As I have the attention span of a concussed duckling, I have no idea where my next stories are going, but I hope that you will be able to enjoy wherever they lead. I’d love to hear what you think.
“You need to show me the mail,” Surjit said as Gareth strode in to work on Monday morning. “Luke said that I’d be sorting the post from now on.”
“And good morning to you!” Gareth said with a grin. “Let me get my tea first.”
Surjit smiled back. “Okay, I’ll be waiting. And I want to hear all about Friday night as well,” she added.
Gareth headed for the kitchen. On one hand, he felt confident in his new clothes that fit and looked good. He was definitely putting on muscle and feeling better. On the other hand, his memory of the weekend after Friday evening was its customary blank. He remembered turning up to Jed’s rugby match and cheered him on, but apart from that there was nothing. He had also found some scratches in strange places in the shower and was tired in different ways. Please let whatever was possessing him not done anything extreme. He nodded to Syed as he grabbed a mug. “How was the hangover?”
Syed ignored Gareth’s light-hearted tone. “You got us out of there,” he said quietly. “And what were they?”
Gareth shook his head. “I don’t know, mate,” he said. “All we can do is forget about them.”
Syed looked uneasy. “Do you think we should talk to anyone about this?” he asked tentatively.
Gareth shook his head. “Who would believe us?” he asked. He filled up his mug. “Don’t worry about it. Worry about how much you can sell. Luke is scarier than anything you can find in a bar.”
Syed forced a grin. “I don’t know,” he said. “Tony got caught up with this lass once…” He broke off. “I’ll tell you next time we’re out drinking. Are you planning more campaigns?”
“I’ve got a few ideas,” Gareth said. “I want to see what Carli is thinking. Surjit is going to take over the post and that should free up some time for me. Speaking of which, I’d better go and get her started.”
Gareth powered through the day. It didn’t take long to get Surjit sorting the post, then he raced through the emails and orders from the rickety website before going back to his notes and working through the lunch hour. Then he was dragged into Luke’s office to get the details of the course that he was doing.
“You’ve got some catching up to do,” Luke said. “You should have started two weeks ago. But it’s all online and you can do it at work.”
“Thanks, Luke,” Gareth said. “I won’t let you down.”
Luke glared at him. “I heard that you were inviting Carli on a date,” he said. “I thought that you were just going to be working together.”
For a brief moment Gareth thought that the other Gareth was going to step in, but he managed to use his own words for a change. “I’m not planning on seducing her over a fish and chips supper,” he said coolly. “We’re going to be talking about work and I’m looking forward to her company. I want to see the direction that she’s taking so that I can work any marketing around it.”
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have been worried. Carli will soon see off anyone that bothers her,” he said. “But you saved her when the stacks of dye collapsed and that might have turned her head. And I heard that you dealt with some trouble on Friday as well.” He tapped thick fingers on his desk. “Something’s changed.”
“I won’t take advantage of her,” Gareth said, awkwardly using the old fashioned phrase. “I mean, I won’t mess her around. And we probably won’t be doing that much work together, not once we get everything going. I just need to know where to aim stuff.”
Luke shook his head sadly. “I was desperate enough when I got a chance for Carli to come here,” he said. “Now you’re doing all these advertising things and the orders are finally starting to move. My mates at the club told me that I need a new website when I still can’t work out how to use the one that we’ve got. And now you are asking a lass for a date.”
Gareth thought back to how much he had changed. “But it’s for the better, right?” he said. “There’s more money coming in.”
“There is at the moment,” Luke said. “But we haven’t kept the business going for this long by being reckless. So you get those new advertising ideas going, and I’ll make sure that you get a bonus and that’ll do for now. And see you behave with Carli, that’s all I’m saying.”
Gareth got back to his desk feeling a little bewildered but dived quickly into his work before taking a laptop with him into Carli’s room. “Is this a good time?” he asked.
Carli nodded and pushed aside a sheaf of papers. “It’s perfect,” she said. “I’ve got some pictures of the new designs here and this is what I’m hoping to bring in.” She pulled over a folder. “Have you had any of the whiskey yet?” she asked.
Gareth floundered for a moment. Anything could have happened over the weekend. But then he remembered seeing the unopened bottle in his desk drawer this morning. “I’m saving it for something special,” he said. “Perhaps for Christmas. You didn’t have to get me anything, you know, but I’m grateful.”
Carli smiled at him and for a moment something hung in the air, some potential connection, before she opened the folder. “These are the colours that came down the catwalks this year,” she began. “I’m trying to reflect them.”
Gareth started making notes. “I can use some of these as themes for social media,” he said. “I’ve got some ideas saved.”
“Does Luke know how much work you’ve done on this?” Carli asked.
“He’s fine as long as it doesn’t cost money,” Gareth chuckled. “I’ve saved these posts here, but I wondered how you want to play it. What are the stars of the next batch, so I can do a proper lead up.”
Carli looked at him with respect. “Have a look here,” she said as she pushed some cards towards him. “I’ll email you a list of the shades to use, but this is what they look like.”
The afternoon flew by as they worked through the direction of Carli’s designs and how Gareth could work with them. By the time the rest of the office had left and the cleaners were pointedly vacuuming around their desks, Gareth was starving. “I said that I’d buy you fish and chips,” he said. “There’s a decent pub near Kirkstall, I’ll treat you there.”
Carli smiled up at him. “As long as I can return the favour some other time,” she said. “And I’m starving as well.”
“I’ll drive us there,” Gareth said. “And I’ll bring you back to pick up your car. If that’s okay,” he added.
Carli looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “Yes, that’s fine,” she said eventually.
The pub was almost empty and Gareth gave the order at the bar and then settled down in a corner with Carli. “We should put this on expenses,” he said. “We’ve worked late enough.”
Carli laughed. “Luke would have a fit,” she said as she took her cola from him. “I swear he twitches at expenses. But he’s putting his money where his mouth is at the moment. You’ve got your course and he’s muttering about getting the website redesigned.” She laughed again. “Although he does look like he’s in pain when he talks about it. He’s a true Yorkshireman – he likes to keep hold of his brass.”
Gareth looked up. Standing next to him was a tall, bulky man. Tattoos ran up his neck and under his cropped hair and the thick leather jacket and sturdy jeans couldn’t hide the physical strength in his powerful frame. Cold fear ran through him as he met the man’s cold, assessing gaze. Gareth stood. “Yes, that’s me,” he said.
“No,” the woman behind him said. “That’s not him. I mean the other one.”
“I’m Sir Dylan,” the big man said, “And I’m here to speak with Bron.”
Gareth gritted his teeth as he felt the now familiar surge of the other Gareth taking over. “Sir Dylan?” Bron said. “Are you one of the Knights Templar?” He looked past the man to the woman behind. “Violet, this isn’t really the time.”
“I felt the Orache Stone move,” Violet said. “It’s working. Time is running out.” She looked over to where Carli was sitting. “He spent the weekend with me, you know,” she said, her dark eyes snapping.
“Violet!” Bron snapped. “We talked about this.” He turned to Sir Dylan. “I’m enjoying a meal with my friend. It wouldn’t be polite to abandon her. Perhaps we can meet later.”
“How much does your friend know?” Sir Dylan asked as his eyes swept over Carli.
Carli flinched back and Bron put a firm hand on Sir Dylan’s broad chest. “Stay away from her,” he snarled. He glanced over at Violet. “And you can stay out of my sight. I told you how it was.”
Violet’s lips pressed together and colour drained from her face. “Bron, you wouldn’t abandon me,” she whispered.
“I am not yours!” Bron said. “You know why I can’t.” He turned to Sir Dylan. “I’ll meet in two hours.”
Sir Dylan pushed Bron’s hand aside and looked him warily over him before nodding. “Meet me at Kirkstall Abbey,” he said. “You should bring the girl.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Bron growled. “This lady is Carli Sykes and not just some girl. Show respect.”
Sir Dylan’s eyes narrowed and he turned to Carli. “I’d be grateful if you would come with Gareth and or Bron to Kirkstall Abbey in two hours’ time, Ms Sykes,” he said carefully.
“She doesn’t need to be there,” Bron said.
“I think that perhaps she does,” Sir Dylan said, looking back at Bron.
“I can’t be there,” Violet whispered. “It’s too holy, too sacred.”
“Well that’s a relief because I am disgusted by you,” Bron snapped. “You went too far.”
Violet wailed and the part of Gareth watching this insane conversation nearly collapsed as she seemed to fade and dissipate into the background and was suddenly not there. Gareth turned to look at Carli who seemed as appalled as he felt. “I’m sorry about that, lass,” Bron said. “She won’t harm you.” He turned to glare at Sir Dylan. “And this big guy won’t hurt you either.”
Sir Dylan scowled at him. “Two hours,” he said, pointedly checking his watch and then handing over a card. “Just in case.” He spun around and stalked off, deftly avoiding the waitress bringing over their order.
Gareth felt Bron drain away as the waitress placed the fish and chips in front of them and then left with a curious final glance. “I’m sorry about that,” he whispered. Warrior spirit, he reminded himself. “But I’m not going to let it put me off my food. I’m starving.”
Carli’s hand trembled a little as she pulled the plate towards her. “We earned it, didn’t we,” she managed. “What is going on?” she asked. “Luke said that something had happened to you and now this. You sounded different.”
Gareth speared a large chunk of fish and bit into it, chewing thoroughly as his brain whirred. “A few months ago I wanted to get a better job so I tried to develop a warrior spirit,” he said finally. “But I think that I got a warrior spirit as a sort of timeshare in me. It was him that pulled you out from under the dye boxes, and him that got the lads out of trouble on Friday.” Gareth was faintly aware of Bron’s presence in the back of his mind. “I have no memories of huge chunks of time. I can’t remember most of this weekend, so I could have been with that woman. I didn’t know whether I’d drunk any of the whiskey you gave me or not, but I suppose he’s the one that should drink it as he earned it.” He stabbed his fork at a chip. “And I have no idea who that guy is or what’s going on.” He forced himself to look at Carli. “I’m sorry that you’ve got caught up in this.”
Carli took a breath. “What about the advertising?” she asked.
“That’s all me,” Gareth said, forcing a smile. “I can’t blame anyone else for that.” Then he felt the presence of the other Gareth – Bron.
“Don’t worry, lass,” Bron said. “That story stuff is all his. There’s a real passion there that I could never manage. And even as he’s getting a bit more muscle and standing up straight, he’s still thinking of you.” Bron grinned. “He hasn’t noticed the interest of the other lasses.”
Carli went scarlet. “I can hear the difference,” she said, battling for her composure. “I can tell.”
Gareth fought to speak. “I don’t need to talk about any love life,” he forced out.
Bron chuckled. “It’s always good to be clear about intentions,” he said. “Violet is a nature spirit from a long ago. We were… We were very close once. And I think she hasn’t had enough company recently.”
“So when you spent the weekend, you were catching up?” Carli said, still scarlet.
“In a manner of speaking,” Bron said. “I’m sorry, Gareth, I shouldn’t have indulged, but it’s hard for me too. I’m finding my way around.”
“Who are you?” Gareth asked.
“I was a warrior, a long, long time ago,” Bron said. “I’ll explain everything when we meet that Sir Dylan. Until then, you need to eat and keep up your strength. Dark days are coming.”
Gareth was aware of an emptiness in his head and sighed. “I think he’s gone,” he said to Carli. He looked at her carefully. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Hmm?” Carli looked at the chunk of fish on the end of her fork as if she had never seen anything like it before. “I think so. And when Jed was talking about monsters at that pub on Friday, they were real?”
Gareth nodded. “But it was Bron that got us all out, not me,” he said. He sighed. “I wish I had never started this,” he said. “But it is what it is.” He managed a smile. “Why don’t we enjoy our food, ignore the concerned looks that we’re getting from the barstaff and try and nail down that Instagram idea. That has to be worth a look.”
Carli answered his smile with a strained smile of her own. “If you can get it to work,” she said. “It will take some doing.”
“I can do that,” Gareth said, his smile broadening as he pushed the memory of Sir Dylan to one side. “I’ll get it sorted.”
Carli stared as they parked opposite Kirkstall Abbey. “When I first came to Leeds, I didn’t expect to find a genuine medieval Cistercian monastery in the centre of the city,” she said.
“It’s not quite the centre,” Gareth said as got out and opened the car door for her.
Carli had been staring blankly at the abbey and jumped a little before smiling and getting out. “Thanks,” she said. “It looks different at night. And it’s almost the centre. It’s surrounded by houses.”
Gareth grinned. “I never really notice it,” he said.
Carli shivered and allowed Gareth to lead her across the road and into the abbey grounds. “It’s too dark and quiet,” she said.
Gareth was carefully looking around. “I don’t like using my phone as a torch,” he said. “It runs the battery down. I should have brought the torch from the car.”
Carli swallowed. “We can use my phone for now,” she said, her voice strained.
“Do you want to wait in the car?” Gareth asked. “Or there are plenty of taxis around that can get you back to the mill. You don’t have to come here.”
“I think I do,” Carli said.
Gareth looked down at her set face. Something was going on, but he had no idea what. “This way,” he said. “I think I can see a light in the main building.”
He stayed protectively close to Carli as they walked along the paths and then over the grass to the entrance to the nave. The barred gate was swinging open and a glimmer of light shone in the depths. “Be careful where you step,” he warned Carli as he led the way inside.
Sir Dylan was waiting halfway down the stone flagged building. The ruined windows let in a little light with the sound of traffic, but the shadows were pooling deep in the corners. Gareth carefully guided Carli with a reassuring arm lightly around her shoulders until they finally stood in front of Sir Dylan. He was standing next to a small camping lamp and his shadowed eyes were watchful.
“I need to speak to Bron,” Sir Dylan said.
Gareth groaned as he could feel the familiar sensation of being pushed aside. Bron slid his arm away from Carli and stepped a little to one side as he stared hard at Sir Dylan. Even after all the exercise and changes in diet, Gareth was still slight compared to the massive, muscular shape of Sir Dylan, but it was Sir Dylan that stepped back. “Why did you need to see Carli?” Bron demanded.
“If she’s spending time with you then she needs to be aware of what is going on,” Sir Dylan said. “Your hands, they’re…”
Carli squeaked. “You’re a vampire!” she cried.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sir Dylan snapped. “But this is interesting.”
“It’s the mark of the Defender,” Bron said, turning his hands in front of them. A slight, glimmering glow spread over them and cast a faint light around him. “It was how we knew who the Defender was. Once a year we passed through the spring near the ford and it showed us who was chosen.”
“They’re called Paladins now,” Sir Dylan said. “They are the defenders, the ones who step between the normals and non-normals. They glow like that when they are in holy areas. A lot of non-normals can’t come here. Too many saints were buried at Kirkstall.” He looked at Carli. “It’s okay,” he said. “It means that he’s more likely to defend you if there’s trouble.” He frowned. “But it’s interesting that it’s only there with Bron and not Gareth.”
“I was a Defender, a paladin, long ago,” Bron said quietly. “I fought the wolf kin and the boggarts and the dark spirits and protected my village. Then an elfen, a nature spirit, enchanted the Orache Stone. It…” Bron stared for a moment. “It possessed the lead of a wolf kin pack, werewolves, and it drove him mad. It eats souls for power. It doesn’t kill the poor creature that’s ravaged, just leaves them without a soul and it takes their mind until someone else slaughters it and takes the stone. But it gives power. The elfen was malevolent because the stone will take more and more of a soul but give more and more power. As it grants more power, it takes more of the soul and the owner falls into madness. There is perhaps a line where you can get a lot of power but stop just short of losing your sanity.” Bron smiled grimly. “But that’s impossible to judge. I managed to get it away from the mad wolf kin – werewolf – that held it but…” Bron grinned. “I died from my wounds within a month.” His grin twisted. “It wasn’t pleasant. But from what Violet said this weekend, there are a pack of strays in the Dales.” He spread his hands out in bewilderment. “I can’t keep up with these new ways of describing things.”
Sir Dylan turned to Carli. “Most werewolves aren’t a threat,” he said. “They live in packs, keep good order and don’t bother anyone. Then you have what they call strays, that is, lone werewolves. They seem to go a little crazy outside the pack structure. Some keep their heads down but without others of their own around them they can get feral. When they get feral, they get dangerous.”
“I never really saw much of that,” Bron said. “They were all bloody dangerous in my day.”
Sir Dylan shrugged. “From what Violet said, a few feral strays have been banding together. There’s one calling himself Fang, previously known as Josiah Carruthers, who’s already a known problem.” He frowned. “If it had been any other territory, the local pack would sort them out, but Mark Davies, their leader, is having a tough time.”
Bron looked coldly at Sir Dylan. “People could have died on Friday,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty. Everyone has tough times, but if you can’t do your duty then you stand aside and let those who can get the job done take your place.”
“How bad can a few strays be?” Sir Dylan said. “I can have word with Mark, but I have a lot going on. He’s going back and forward to hospital with his wife and her cancer treatments, and I’ve got my hands full with just the day to day stuff. We’ve had elfen scammers and drugged up vampires and…”
“I may have been away for a while,” Bron said. “But I’m not a fool. Those werewolves meant trouble. And if one of them have got hold of the Orache Stone, it won’t be a few strays, it will be a whole village rampaging. And I don’t know how many you think of as a few, but there could be as many as a dozen and that isn’t a small pack.”
Sir Dylan looked at him sceptically. “Are you sure about those numbers?” he asked. “Most strays can’t work with more than one or two, especially if they’ve spent any time going feral.”
“Someone has dug up the Orache Stone,” Bron said. “And it has the power to grant leadership. Damn you, it’s dangerous! Especially if there are numbers.”
Sir Dylan looked at him for a long, tense moment, then nodded. “The pubs are still open,” he said. “Let’s go visit this Iron Sickle.”