Invitation Accepted Chapter Thirteen

You can find the story from the beginning here.

Kidder wandered into the garden, grinning at the Knights Templars. “When is the furniture going to get here?” he asked.

“It should have been here half an hour ago,” Sir Dylan said, checking his watch.

“This isn’t an easy place to find,” Sir Philip said. “I had a few problems getting here myself.”

“I’m glad that Lincoln sent you,” Sir Dylan said. “I think we’ll need all the help we can get. I’m just sorry that the accommodation isn’t the usual standard. I mean, you could stay in Leeds, but it’s better to be nearer the action.”

“Mortimer is having fits,” Kidder said. “He’s in a state about how we are going to eat dinner without a proper dining table.”

“Brownies are always having fits,” Sir Philip said easily. “We’ll manage even if we have to sit on the floor and eat with plates on our laps.”

“It’s not like he’s used to a lot of furniture,” Kidder said. “He’s been in a bit of a bad place, but now he’s been watching videos online about how to lay the table and, well…”

Sir Philip chuckled. “At least you’ll be well fed,” he said.

“I’m going to ring the store,” Sir Dylan said, pulling out his phone.

“It’s a charity shop,” Sir Philip said. “They aren’t going to have a strict schedule. The extremely cheap furniture will be here when it’s here. We may as well relax in the sun while we can.”

Kidder stretched in the late autumn sunshine. “I’m taking my chance to do nothing,” he said. “Mortimer will have us moving the furniture around for hours and then I’ll be busy moving stuff around at work next week.”

“How’s it going?” Sir Dylan asked. “Have you had any more problems with Fang?”

Kidder shook his head. “And Rhys has calmed down a little,” he said. A shadow passed across his face. “But the sooner we get Fang sorted, the happier I think everyone will be.”

“He’ll get sorted out,” Sir Dylan said. “We won’t let him get away.”

“Gareth is coming,” Kidder said, tilting his head and grinning again. “Wait until you hear Gareth and Bron arguing, Sir Philip. It’s weird.”

Gareth walked around the corner and out from behind the untidy hawthorn hedge. “There’s a van stuck at the bottom of the lane,” he said. “And it’s blocking the way. I can’t get past it. Apparently someone bought all the furniture in a charity shop and paid extra for delivery.”

“How can it be stuck?” Sir Dylan said.

Sir Philip looked at him. “Let me see, a volunteer driver in an unfamiliar, overloaded van down a narrow lane. What could possibly go wrong?”

“If it’s definitely for us, then we need to give her a hand,” Gareth said. “I don’t think that the van is well loaded, and if we just get a few bits out then it could make all the difference.” He looked at them. “How much furniture did you buy?”

“Not enough for Mortimer,” Kidder chuckled.

Sir Philip laughed. “We got so much that the charity shop threw in some tray cloths and doilies to help the deal,” he said.

“Great,” said Bron, making Sir Philip start. “We’re going to have a house full of young men but set out like an old lady’s place.” He shrugged. “If it’s warm, dry and clean then I’ll take it.” The phone in his pocket rang. “Excuse me.” He wandered off into a corner of the unkempt garden.

“Joking aside, sirs, but how much did you buy?” Kidder asked.

Sir Dylan shook his head. “I wanted to go to IKEA,” he said. “We’ve got a reasonable budget and we need practical, not fancy. But I was overruled.” He looked pointedly at Sir Philip.

“It seemed the right thing to do,” Sir Philip said. “We had a lot of money to spend and now it’s helping out a charity.”

Sir Dylan grimaced. “We got a lot of furniture,” he said. “But I’m sure that we’ll need it. I’m not sure about the tray cloths, though.”

“We have a problem,” Bron snapped, striding back to them. “That was Mark, the werewolf. He went up to see Violet and it looks like Fang paid her a visit before he got there. I’m on my way there. Follow me when you get the damn lane cleared.” Bron started running down the lane. “And get that Steve Adderson to turn up,” he yelled over his shoulder. “In case Fang comes back.”

“Get Mortimer,” Sir Dylan snapped to Kidder. “We need to get that lane cleared.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed speed dial. “Steve, it’s Sir Dylan. I’ll send you the co-ordinates. It could be our chance.”

Bron raced up to Violet’s cottage and then paused, controlling his breathing with difficulty. The garden had seen a fight. Violet’s beloved plants had been crushed and tossed in some sort of struggle. The door hung from the hinges, swinging slowly. Bron approached carefully. “Violet, are you there?”

“She’s gone,” a voice said.

Bron headed to the sound of the voice. “Is that you Mark?” he asked. “And where has Violet gone.”

“I mean, she’s…” Mark’s voice trailed off and Bron heard him take a deep breath. “She’s dead, Bron. I was too late.”

“No,” Bron said with iron control. “The elfen do not die so easily.” He strode into the cottage and the truth hit him like ice.

“Fang was all over her,” Mark said. “I tried my best, but…”

Bron looked at Mark coldly. The werewolf had a lot of the marks of battle, the scrapes and bites slowly fading and the adrenaline was still seeping out of him. “You’re the leader of the pack,” Bron said. “And you couldn’t stop Fang.”

Mark snarled but then shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I heard that you and Violet were close. Fang has that stone. I drove him off, but I was too late. Violet had been too badly hurt.”

Bron looked around the fading cottage. The colours were starting to seep out of the wall and dust was settling. He could see all of the signs of a fight. The loom in the corner had been shattered and the warp had been tangled, caught in the battle. Ashes from the fire were scattered on the hearth rug and furniture was upturned. He reached out to a fading throw, tangled in the remains of a smashed chair. And mixed in with the chaos was a drift of dead leaves and splashes of vivid blood. “There’s been a battle here, alright,” Bron said. “Violet was fading, but she would not have gone quietly.”

Mark stared at him. “I was holding her. I got Fang by the throat but he wriggled out and went through the window,” he said, nodding at the window. “But Violet was hurt and I tried to hold her.”

“When elfen die, they return to nature,” Bron said. “They go back to leaves and dust and air.” His fists clenched and unclenched. “We should get out of here.”

Mark looked around. “Is it cursed?” he asked.

Bron shook his head. “Violet’s spirit filled this place,” he said. “Now she’s gone, it’s not so stable. Think – isn’t it a lot dimmer than it used to be? And look at the blood, look how bright it is next to the floor and walls.” His shoulders slumped for a moment. “The cottage will follow Violet. It’s best that we get out of here.”

Bron didn’t wait for Mark but strode out of the cottage and into the autumn sunlight. The garden, already fading and ready for winter, was losing what was left of its vigour and withering as he looked.

“I’m so sorry,” Gareth said into the back of Bron’s mind. “I know that you cared.”

“Thanks,” Bron said. “She had faded, and she was often silly, but…” He walked slowly down the cracked path and stepped over the crumbling gate and into the lane. He glanced up and down, checking for trouble. He had to show the boy how to behave like a man. He needed to be measured and keep his head clear of the red rage filling him. “She was my last true link with the old days, my old life.”

“Do what you need to do,” Gareth said. “Be who you are. I can feel the pain coming from you like heat from a furnace. I may not be an old warrior, but I know that you can’t bottle this up.”

Bron sensed Mark behind him. “Which way did Fang go?” he asked.

“He went out of the window,” Mark said. “He must have overheard me talking with Rhys in the mill. I talked about Violet having some control over the stone. He must have been worried.” He turned back to the cottage and squinted. “You said it would fade, but I didn’t expect that.”

Bron glanced back briefly. The outline of the cottage looked blurred and smudged, like it was seen through thin smoke or a heat haze. “Violet had lived here for many centuries,” he said. “It was mostly her will in the walls, keeping it standing for all these years. It was part of her. But which way did Fang go? That’s the important question.” He frowned as a car raced up the lane and pulled up next to the gateposts. “What do you want, wizard?”

Steve got out of the car and met Bron’s dark gaze before flicking past him to the cottage. “I see,” he said softly. “I’m sorry that I was too late.”

Bron turned back to Mark. “Which way did Fang go?” he asked again.

“He went to the north,” Mark said. “But that must have been fifteen minutes ago and he could move fast in the countryside, especially if he went to fur. He could have gone anywhere.”

“You can’t take on the Orache Stone,” Steve said. “And that’s probably all that’s left of Fang. You can’t take it one on one. We need to work as a team.”

“You’re mistaken, wizard,” Bron said. “I was the one who dealt with it last time.”

“It killed you last time,” Steve said. “And the stone wasn’t destroyed. It’s different now. Lord Marius has learned a lot over the years, and the Knights Templar are better trained than most would believe. Let us help you.”

“Have you ice in your veins?” Bron asked. “Can you turn away from something like this? Could you stop yourself from going straight after the one who killed your love.”

Steve met Bron’s glare without flinching. “I’ve always waited,” he said. “It wouldn’t help anyone if I went in without thinking and made everything worse. Or do you want Fang to take you as well as Violet, and Gareth with you?”

“No fight is without risks,” Bron growled.

“We can avoid the worst of the risks,” Steve said impatiently. “We can put plans and fallback plans in place. We have a better chance of taking down Fang and the Orache Stone as a group. It needs more than just brute force.”

“Brute force worked last time,” Bron said.

“Did it?” Steve asked, his voice icy. “Last time you ended up dead and the village was without a defender for decades. The people there suffered. And you only managed to use brute force because of magical help from Violet – who isn’t here. Magic won’t work on its own and neither will brute force, not if we want all of us walk away in one piece.”

“I’ll back you no matter what,” Gareth said in the back of Bron’s mind.

Bron stared at Steve for a long moment, then nodded. “I want the best chance of getting rid of Fang,” he said. “I’ll play by your rules. But I’m still going to track Fang.” He tapped the phone in his pocket. “I’ll keep in touch.” And, with a quick look around, he disappeared into the forest behind the crumbling cottage.

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