Invitation Accepted Chapter Nine

You can read the story from the beginning here

Image from Unsplash, taken by Phil Cruz

“Have you seen the new security guard?” Surjit asked.

Carli shook her head as she hurried into reception. She leaned on the reception desk. “Do you think that they know what it is?” She asked. “I mean, all the scary stuff?”

“I don’t know,” Surjit said. “Syed told me what happened at The Iron Sickle, and I saw a bit of what happened in the car park. Something weird is definitely happening.”

Carli shivered. “I think there is,” she said. “But I think Gareth can deal with most of it.”

“You are so sweet on him,” Surjit said. “But think about it. Gareth can’t be everywhere, and he may need a hand if it gets scary.” She looked around the reception. “And Luke knows something that we don’t. I’ve been told to let in Lord Marius or Sir Dylan at any time and without question. What’s with the titles?”

“I think I’ve met Sir Dylan,” Carli said. “He doesn’t look like a ‘sir’. He looks like he could rip Gareth apart. He has tattoos on his neck and he’s built bigger than Jed. But he seemed nice enough.”

“I suppose that you can’t judge by appearances,” Surjit sighed. “I’d love to go out with someone with a ‘sir’ or a ‘lord’ in their name. As it is, I’m not even managing a ‘mr’.”

“Perhaps you’ll get a date with the security guard?” Carli said. “Is he really old?”

Surjit snorted with laughter. “He’s gorgeous,” she said. “I mean, he’s dark, with short hair which always looks good on a man. Then he’s full of muscles and there’s just something about him.” She looked at Carli and sighed. “He’s just calm. He reminds me a little of how Gareth is these days.”

“And not old?” Carli asked.

Surjit thought for a moment. “I think he’s in his thirties,” she said. “So maybe five years or more older than me. But he looks in great shape and has a lovely smile.”

“Here’s the big question,” Carli said. “Is he single?”

“I can only hope,” Surjit said. “Hang on…” She smiled professionally at the man walking into reception. “Good morning, how can I help you?”

“The name is Mark Davis,” he said. “I’m here to see Mr Luke Ossett. He should be expecting me.”

Surjit checked the computer. “Of course. If you go up now, I’ll let him know that you’re here.”

“I can take him up,” Carli said. She smiled at Mark. “This way.” She led him out of reception to the stairs. “I’m Carli Sykes and I’m the designer.” She started on the stairs, uneasily aware of Mark’s intent gaze. “The business is all under one roof from design to packaging.” They reached the top of the stairs and Carli pulled open the heavy wooden fire door. “It’s just down here,” she said as she led him past the cluster of desks in the outside office, glancing quickly over to where Gareth was sitting. Their eyes met briefly before Carli carried on. “This is it,” she said, raising her hand to rap on Luke’s door.

Mark held up his hand to stop her. “My nephew is starting today as a security guard – Rhys Davis,” he said. “I hope that you’ll make him feel welcome. He’s a bit lonely these days.”

“Everyone is welcome here,” Carli said. “It’s a good crew. But I’ll say ‘hi’ when I see him. Would you like a tea or a coffee?”

Luke stared across the desk at Mark. “Lord Marius asked me to take on Rhys Davis,” he said. He drummed his fingers on the desk. “But I have reservations. He’s not to be alone with the ladies.”

Mark looked at him coldly. “If Rhys asks a woman out to dinner, it means that he will be paying for her to eat with him at a restaurant, nothing more. He’s not a stray with no manners.”

“You tell me that, and Lord Marius tells me that, but how do I know?” Luke said, running his hand through his thinning hair. “How can I trust you and Rhys when you’re something I can’t even imagine?”

Mark looked at him coldly. “I can’t answer that,” he said. “But what choice do you have? If Rhys steps out of line, Lord Marius will deal with it.  You know how he deals with things.”

Luke swallowed. “I’ve seen it, a little,” he said quietly. “I took in some apprentices in the factory, years ago. I said I’d do it to help them out, and everyone needs a hand now and again.”  He stood and paced over to the window and looked down on the stained floor. “They were boggarts, and they’re still with us. But it seems that other boggarts were after them. I didn’t ask, and they didn’t tell, but I stood by them then and I stand by them now. Lord Marius was grateful.” He turned around and looked hard at Mark. “Lord Marius looked after me then and I suppose that he’s looking after me now, but…”

“If there was a genuine threat then you wouldn’t be able to move for Knights Templar and non normal protection,” Mark said. “This is just playing safe. Lord Marius feels that he owes you for looking after Keith and Brian. And Rhys is a good lad. He’s usually in charge of a building site. You won’t have any problems. Here.” He pushed his business card across to Luke. “Look my firm up. Look at the reviews. You may find people complaining about the finish, but nothing about throats being ripped out.”

Luke walked back to the desk and took the card. “It’s alright for you to joke,” he grumbled.

“What else has Lord Marius talked about?” Mark asked.

“He’s talked about there being trouble within your lot, but not much,” Luke said. “And he wants some blankets at a good price.”

“You’re doing a deal with an elfen?” Mark said, amused. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“He’s sending someone in to do the negotiations,” Luke said. “He said it was someone like me, someone called Steve Adderson.”

“He’s a salesman,” Mark said. “He buys and sells to the elfen. He’s tough, but he’s unlikely to be weird.”

“I can deal with tough,” Luke said. “The mill would last long if I couldn’t.”

“I wish I could see it,” Mark said. “But why don’t you show me around so I know what Rhys is getting into. After all, I may need to swap in others if there’s a problem.”

“They’ll all be respectful, won’t they,” Luke said sharply.

“Trust me, all my pack act like gentlemen,” Mark said.

A tense silence hung in The Iron Sickle. Fang was sitting in a corner, his pint untouched, as he stared unseeing and muttered to himself.

“Are you okay, boss?” Kidder asked.

Fang stared at the young werewolf. The lad was just twenty and had been kicked out of his pack for kissing a normal girl his own age. At the back of what was left of his mind, Fang recognised that there was something wrong going on, that Kidder was trying to be kind and he deserved a chance. It was overridden by the swirling dark filling his head. “I’m fine, just fine, and I’ll tolerate no disrespect.” His eyes swept the room. “You lot can’t even look at me straight,” he snarled. “Tonight we’ll hunt, and I’ll show you about respect.”

Sir Dylan waved Gareth into the cottage and switched on the lights. “It’s not been used for a while,” he said. “But it was once a safe space. When I rang the top brass in Lincoln, they said that Otley was once a minor domain before Lord Skyrack got ideas.” He sighed. “The old prince of Leeds sounds like a right bastard. Anyway, we’ve done the rewiring and checked that the plumbing works. There’s some brownies that owe us a favour so they’re going to come in, clean it and redecorate. You’ll have to let them know what you want. Carli’s on her way, isn’t she? She can help with the colours.”

Gareth grinned. “Don’t tell me, you don’t believe that there’s a colour called ‘lilac’.”

Sir Dylan shrugged. “She does colours for a living. I’d make the most of it if I were you.” He hesitated. “You don’t sign up to the same stuff as the Knights Templar. We’re under most of the same rules as monks.” He avoided Gareth’s eyes. “I know a few paladins that are far from monks. All I’m saying is that you can’t have a lass move in without the benefit of marriage. Not here.” He took a deep breath. “Anyway, this is obviously the hall. The living room is through there, then the kitchen, study, dining room, another room, downstairs bathroom – we converted that, so the plaster needs to dry out a bit. Then the stairs are at the back.” He led Gareth further in. “There’s six bedrooms because you never know when you might have to put up visitors from Knights Templar, people needing refuge, etc. And there’s another main bathroom upstairs.”

“It doesn’t look that big on the outside,” Gareth said uneasily. “I’m used to a bedsit.”

Sir Dylan laughed. “If you’re working then you can use your stipend from the Home Office to pay for a housekeeper and gardener. Some brownies would jump at the chance.”

“This is taking a bit of getting used to,” Gareth said.

“There’s a gun safe in the study,” Sir Dylan said. “I’ll show you that and I’ll sort out some time at the shooting range and a licence and that.” He grinned. “What does Bron think of that?”

“I have no idea,” Gareth said. “He’s not around at the moment, but I’m sure that he’ll enjoy it.” He looked around the wide hall with the dusty wooden doors leading off. “This isn’t set up like a normal house at all, is it?”

“Not even close,” Sir Dylan said. There was a wild banging on the door.

It was Carli. “Gareth, Bron, you have to help me!” she cried. “It’s awful.”

Gareth followed Carli as she raced out of the garden and down the lane. “I parked down the hill,” she gasped. “I wasn’t sure of the turning so I walked up and I heard the whimper. I thought it was a wild animal that needed help, but…”

“Someone’s hurt?” Gareth said.

“They’re in a bad way,” Carli said. “And I didn’t know what to do.” She raced over to a ditch. “He’s here.” She knelt down to a shape on the ground. “It’s okay, I’ve brought help.”

A shiver ran through Gareth as he heard the pitiful whimper. He felt Bron stirring as he followed Carli. It took all of his self-control not to recoil. “We’re going to need help,” he said, pulling out his phone. “Carli, ring the number marked Tyler, werewolf. Sir Dylan, we’ll use our jackets as a stretcher. We can’t leave him here.”

Sir Dylan’s face was set as he ripped off his jacket. “We should get Mark Davies,” he said.

Bron had dragged off his jacket and was kneeling by the creature. “Mark Davies is a self-absorbed idiot who’s miles away,” he said. “Gareth was right. Tyler is a better choice.” He cast his eyes over the werewolf. “And this poor thing needs help now.”

Sir Dylan glanced up at Carli as she reached Tyler. “Tell him to come to Rowan Cottage,” he said. “He’ll know where it is.” He looked down at the werewolf. “And tell him to hurry.” He started gently easing his jacket under the creature’s head.

Something bad had happened to the werewolf. It wasn’t just the oozing wounds and torn flesh. Werewolves healed quickly enough. Whoever it was had been traumatised. One hind leg was a wolf’s paw, but it was next to a man’s leg. Both of his front legs ended in paws, but they were at the end of human arms. His muzzle was misshapen, neither human nor wolf. Worst of all, he was whimpering and rigid with pain and his eyes were blank.

“Stay back, Carli,” Bron said. “He won’t know what he’s doing and he may snap.” He eased his jacket under the creature’s hips. “Sometimes the wildness takes over in the kindest of wolfkind. Right, Sir Dylan, let’s get our footing and on three… One, two, three.”

The men carried their burden gently down the lane. Carli ran ahead to the cottage and held the door open as they carefully lifted the werewolf into the living room. “Warm water in a basin, please,” Bron said as they lowered the werewolf onto the floor. “If there is one.”

“The house isn’t furnished,” Sir Dylan said. “But there’s a small first aid kit in the cupboard under the stairs. It won’t be much good until Tyler gets here, but I’ll get it now.” He pulled off his sweater and folded it before easing it under the tormented werewolf’s head. It whimpered.

“It’s okay, laddo,” Bron said. “You’re with friends and it’s okay.” He pulled out a knife. “Can you hear me? Now, this knife is big and scary and sharp, but it’s not to hurt you, see. It’s just to cut away your clothes so we can treat you. So don’t fear it, and don’t fear us.”

Carli came in with a bowl of warm water and a roll of kitchen paper. “What happened?” she asked. “Is he going to be okay?”

Bron frowned as he sliced off the werewolf’s tattered jeans. “It’s hard to kill a werewolf, even with fire and silver, but he’s been badly treated. All we can do is make him comfortable and hope that Tyler knows what to do.”

“I told him everything,” Carli said. She reached out and gently stroked the creature’s paw. It whined gently.

Bron stayed poised, ready to knock Carli out of the way if pain got the better of the werewolf and it snapped, but the creature seemed soothed. “Okay, laddo, I’m cutting off what’s left of your shirt,” he said. “It will hurt some, but then we can get the dirt out of your wounds. We can’t have you getting a fever.”

The creature whimpered and whined as Bron removed the last of the tattered clothing. Carli gently stroked his paws. “Poor thing,” she said.

“Keep your hands away from his head,” Bron said. He looked into the werewolf’s eyes. “I know that you wouldn’t want to hurt her, but pain makes people do crazy things and we don’t want you snapping out of instinct, do we?” He saw a faint recognition of his words and relaxed a little. At least the creature wasn’t complete maddened. “Now I’m going to try washing some of the dirt from you, okay, and it will hurt, but it’s not through malice. Try and hold onto that.” Bron looked up at Carli. “If you have to, get away quick. It’s not his fault, but instinct’s the devil when you’re hurting.”

Carli nodded. “Can I help?”

Bron shook his head. “He’ll have enough to bear with just me.” He looked up at Sir Dylan. “You had better get out in the lane and make sure that Tyler doesn’t miss the house. There aren’t many lights around here and we can’t waste time.”

Sir Dylan glanced down at the injured werewolf and nodded. He bent to gently touch a paw. “Help is coming, don’t worry,” he said before striding out of the room.

The minutes stretched. The werewolf whimpered softly as Bron gently cleaned his fur, easing the dried blood and dirt away and murmuring gently to him. “Can you see if there’s a blanket anywhere?” Bron asked. “He’s starting to shiver and he needs warmth.”

Carli leapt to her feet. “He’s going into shock,” she said quietly. “If he’s stuck then he may not be able to heal properly.” She ran a gentle hand over his paw. “I’ll find things to make you comfortable,” she said.

Bron watched her leave and then put a gentle hand on the werewolf’s shoulder. “She’s a good lass,” he said. “If there’s anything around here to help, she’ll find it, don’t worry.” Bron sat on the bare floorboards between the werewolf and the door, blocking any draught. He could worry enough for both of them.

Sir Dylan had never been so glad to see a werewolf. “In here,” he said urgently.

Tyler took in the signs of strain on Sir Dylan’s face. “The woman that called said it was a badly hurt werewolf that was stuck halfway through a change,” he said.

“That’s about right,” Sir Dylan said. “He’s in a bad way and we’re not set up to help him.”

“I’ve brought over some stuff,” Tyler said, hefting a jute bag. “I know my way around a sick dog.” He jogged into the house and into the living room, grimacing when he saw the shape on the floor. Carli had managed to find a faded blanket and her own jacket was added to that, but the creature was shivering and whimpering under the coverings.

“Okay, mate,” Tyler said as he knelt next to the werewolf. “I’m one of your kind, okay, and I know a few things. I’m going to get you set up and then we’ll have a good long talk about how this happened, okay?” He ran a gentle hand over the werewolf, checking the muzzle and wiping it clean. The werewolf licked at Tyler’s hand and Tyler nodded and smiled. “Relax, I’m in charge and I’m going to get all this sorted out,” he said. “I’m going to take control, take the lead and if you keep your fur flat, you’ll be fine, you understand.” He looked at Carli. “Could you pass me the bag?”

Carli’s eyes were wide and fearful as she handed over the bag. “You’ll make him better?” she asked.

“It’s a rough medicine,” Tyler said. “And it’s not easy, but werewolves are tough, right young pup?” The werewolf licked his hand again, though a whimper escaped. Tyler pulled a dusty bottle out of the bag and a small pipette. “You may want to leave for this part,” Tyler told Carli. “It’s not always pretty.”

“I won’t leave now,” Carli said, pale but determined as she held the werewolf’s paw.

“I’ve seen something similar,” Bron said quietly. “It was a long time ago, but I know how it works. He’ll need all his courage.”

Sir Dylan looked between them. “How safe is it?” he asked.

“Safer than staying like this,” Tyler said. “Sometimes you need a drastic remedy.” He carefully drew up 20ml of the brown liquid. Then he frowned and pulled up another 10ml. “I think we need to take a risk.” He patted the werewolf who was watching, panting and with wide eyes. “Hang on, pup,” he said, without warning, and squirted the liquid deep into the werewolf’s throat.

The werewolf convulsed violently, coughing and spluttering. Carli stared as the limbs flowed from one state to another as the shape struggled, wheezing as it dragged in air before finally coming to rest as a young lad, red faced and spluttering. The gashes across his chest and back were already starting to heal and he looked up at Tyler with gratitude. “Thank you,” he said. He coughed a little more.

Carli dashed out to the kitchen and came back with a freshly washed glass of cool water.

“And thank you for your kindness,” he said. “You’re a normal, and you didn’t turn away.” His voice broke a little. “I’m Kidder.”

“Is there somewhere in here where he can rest?” Tyler asked. “It looks pretty empty.”

“I found a camp bed upstairs,” Carli said. “It’s where I got the blanket. It’s pretty bare, but Kidder should be able to rest there.”

“You’ll need a nap, young pup,” Tyler said. “Then we can work out what to do next, okay?”

Kidder nodded and followed Tyler obediently, the blanket wrapped around him. Tyler came back a few minutes later. “The lad will sleep now,” Tyler said. “It would be kind if you could let him rest overnight here before moving him.”

“It’s not a problem,” Sir Dylan said. “We’ll stay here and keep an eye out.”

“What did you give him?” Carli asked. “It seemed to be so, well, violent.”

Tyler met Bron’s eyes and grinned. “It was two tablespoons of cheap rum in an old bottle and with plenty of drama,” he said. “It works every time.”

Don’t forget, Dark Picture, Under Dark Hills and the stories that belong to At the Fireside will be taken down on 30th April.

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