Invitation Accepted Chapter Fifteen

You can find the story from the beginning here

“Hey, Mark,” Rhys said, cautiously walking into the office. “I’m so sorry.” He looked at the werewolf sitting hunched at his desk. “The doctor has signed the certificate and the undertakers will be here any time to take Claire. The nurse is with her until then. I thought it was best that she was in a safe place.”

Mark managed a nod. “We don’t want weirdos going after our dead,” he said, his voice hoarse and raspy.

“Everyone’s here,” Rhys said. “All the women are getting together in the kitchen.”

“I suppose it’s what they do,” Mark said.

“The kids were hanging around so I got them tidying the car park and grounds. It will keep them busy so they don’t get caught up in things,” Rhys said.

“That’s good,” Mark said, staring blankly ahead. “We’ll need the place to look smart for the visitors.”

“And I’ve set up a rota to guard Claire until…” Rhys watched Mark warily. “She will need to be guarded until cremation. She won’t be alone.”

“I’ll be there,” Mark said. “I’ll keep watch with them.” He looked at Rhys, devastation in his eyes. “She’s gone. Claire’s dead.” He dropped his gaze to the picture of their wedding that was clenched in his hand. “What am I going to do now?”

“I’m so sorry,” Rhys said. “I’ll ring up the clients for the building work and let them know that there’ll be a lag, but we should be able to keep things mostly on track.” He leaned forward. “The minister will be here soon as well,” he said. “Do you know if Claire had any ideas about her funeral?”

Mark growled. “What sort of question is that? I wouldn’t let her believe that it was terminal. I kept telling her that she’d get better, that she’d be fine.” He looked up and his gaze burned into Rhys. “How could I ask her to think of a funeral when it was so important to think of life.”

“Well, you need to be able to tell the minister something,” Rhys said.

“Why?” Mark said.

“What do you mean?” Rhys asked warily.

“Why now?” Mark said. “If she had held on just a little longer…” He turned to Rhys. “I did everything I could, you know, everything. I held her, I prayed, and I…”

“We all know that you did all you could,” Rhys said. “You were devoted.”

“Claire was everything to me,” Mark said. “She was my heartbeat.” He stood and started pacing. “I wouldn’t have led the pack without her. She kept me whole.”

“She was a good woman,” Rhys said.

“She was sunshine,” Mark said. “She held my heart and was safe. And she did so much with the women.”

“She was a great leader in her own right,” Rhys said. “Everyone loved her.”

“She made such a difference to everyone,” Mark said. “And she took over a lot of the paperwork.”

“She really shook up the office,” Rhys said. “Her handwriting is still all over the papers and files.”

Mark snarled and swept the papers from his desk. “Why couldn’t she last a little longer?”

Rhys stared at the drift of papers swirling down onto the plain carpet. “Mark, sometimes it’s just someone’s time. We can’t answer that,” he said helplessly. “The minister will be here in a few hours. It’ll help to talk to them.”

Mark kicked the wastepaper bin hard. It crashed against the wall, denting the plaster. “All I needed was a little more time and I could have saved her,” he said. He stood there, panting a little. “Why? Why did it go this way, Rhys? Why was the timing so wrong?”

“Mark, it’s hard, I know,” Rhys said soothingly. “But it’s how things are. It’s not easy, it’s never easy, but you just have to keep your fur flat and keep going.”

“And how many wives have you lost?” Mark snarled. “You talk the talk, but what do you know.”

Rhys struggled to hold in his temper. “I know that I’ve not lost someone like this, but I remember losing my parents, and I remember how tough it was,” he said, pushing down his instinctive response. “And when all is said and done, we need to think about Claire. She’d want to see you keeping going. You know how much she cared about the business and the pack.”

“She cared about everything and everyone but her,” Mark said. Abruptly he upturned the desk. “If she had seen a doctor earlier, or if I’d noticed that she was failing before and made her go, it would have been different.”

Rhys looked around the wrecked room. “We can’t go back in time,” he said, slowly picking up the desk. “And you’re the pack leader. You have to show the cubs how it’s done and set a good example.” He glanced at the damaged plaster. “So we have the cremation as soon as possible, then the memorial at the next dark of the moon, as traditional.” He started gathering together the papers. “Stella can sort out the food, if you like. She knows what’s fit for the cremation. I’ll sort out the business side and we’ll just keep putting one paw in front of the other like we always do. And we keep remembering Claire in our hearts.”

Mark stared at him. “You don’t understand,” he said. “You really don’t understand.”

“Claire’s Bible is still in her room,” Rhys said. “You can look up readings before the minister gets here. You know that Claire had a lot of faith. She’d want something nice.”

Mark looked out of the window. “The undertaker is here,” he said. “I’m going to guard Claire. Just sort something out with the minister – you’ll know the sort of thing.” He pushed past Rhys and jogged down the hall to Claire’s room.

Rhys straightened the room and made a note on his phone to get the plaster patched. He leafed quickly through the papers, but there was nothing urgent or even important. All the main business had been coming through him for a while now and it was his desk in the side office that held the critical stuff. He placed the papers carefully back on Mark’s desk before running a weary hand over his face. He could see the shape of the future and it didn’t look good. He didn’t have time for that, though. He had to go and search the internet for readings suitable for funerals on top of everything else.

Kidder opened the door to Carli. “It’s good to see you, but are you sure that you want to be here?” he asked, grinning.

“What’s up?” Carli asked, then winced as Bron’s voice boomed from the living room.

“I’m doing my time and taking my share of the work,” he yelled. “But where is the support looking for Fang? Why am I the only one hunting him down?”

“We can’t risk The Iron Sickle on our own,” Gareth added. “But we’ve tracked all around there.”

“And surely you should be looking at this?” Bron said. “Violet’s dead! You can’t just wink at a murder just because it was an old and fading elfen.”

Kidder beckoned Carli towards the kitchen. “I was making the tea,” he whispered. “Mortimer is hiding in the shed in the garden. He doesn’t do well with arguments.”

“We’ve had our hands full with other things this week,” Sir Dylan said. “We had the vampires off their heads on dragon’s blood and not knowing which way is up and trying to camp in the minster grounds. That took a bit of sorting out.”

“And there was that outbreak of scarabs at the Royal Armouries,” Sir Philip added. “They mostly dealt with it themselves but they needed a bit of cover.”

“Lord Marius should be here tomorrow with Steve Adderson and they can start scrying for Fang,” Sir Dylan said.

“I’m not a fan of magic,” Sir Philip said. “But it may be the best chance of dealing with this.”

There was a long silence. Carli strained her ears as she helped Kidder lay out the mugs on a tray. “I’ll put something aside for Mortimer,” she whispered. “He must be upset.”

Kidder nodded. “I’ve half a mind to join him,” he whispered back.

“That’s where I went wrong then,” Bron said, his voice icy in the study and exquisitely clear and controlled. “I shed my blood and take my knocks for the people here, but you won’t even consider searching for the one who killed my lover. I see where I stand.”

“Hang on,” Sir Dylan said. “Lord Marius will be here tomorrow and that will make all the difference.”

“He’s right,” Gareth added coldly. “We know exactly how important we are to you. But we shouldn’t be bothering Lord Marius. If you are happy to disregard the relationship between Violet and Bron, then it becomes a matter for the Prince, not the paladin. And this is out of Lord Marius’ domain. Those are the rules, aren’t they?”

“It’s not as simple as that,” Sir Dylan said. “This is about the Orache Stone. You can’t ignore that.”

“But you can ignore the death of my lover,” Bron said.

Carli shot a worried glance at Kidder as she got the milk from the fridge. “I really don’t like the sound of this,” she whispered.

Kidder shook his head as he pulled the almond milk from the cupboard. “Neither do I,” he whispered back.

“You cannot consider going to Lady Mary,” Sir Dylan said. “She’s a vampire and to the best of my knowledge has hardly any magic.”

“You were the one who put her in that position,” Bron said. “Did you choose to set her up to fail? Or is she the best person for that title?”

“Regardless, it’s her domain,” Gareth added. “And she can make the decisions about allowing Lord Marius access to the hunt.”

“He really won’t like that,” Sir Dylan said. “He said that he remembers the last time the Orache Stone was around and he isn’t going to let it take hold this time.”

“I remember the time as well,” Bron said. “And he did service enough, but he was just a twig then, a stripling, a youngster at the back of the crowd. And I remember what it took to take the Orache Stone last time. It took everything.”

“We’ll talk to Lady Mary and take it from there,” Gareth said. “We’ll let you know what is decided.”

“You can’t do that!” Sir Philip said. “It affects normals as well. You’ll need the Knights Templar.”

“I don’t think you understand,” Bron said with careful control. “You may be concerned with the Orache Stone and I cannot stop you seeking it. But I am concerned with the murder of Violet, and that is apparently nothing to do with you, your Knights or Lord Marius.”

Kidder jumped at the knock on the door. “Don’t go in there without me,” he whispered to Carli. “It’s getting tense.” He tiptoed past the study and opened the front door. “Ewan?” He stared at the rangy stray that was fidgeting on the step. “Is everything alright? Are you alright?”

Ewan shuddered. “This is a scary place, dog,” he said. “It’s a real scary place.”

“Are you on stuff?” Kidder asked.

“I needed a bit of help to get here,” Ewan twitched a little. “It just keeps me going and it’s not been easy.”

“Don’t stand there, come in,” Kidder said, pulling the scrawny werewolf inside. Ewan may be in cloth but he looked like a rough sleeper and there was enough curiosity from the locals as it was. “What’s the matter, dog? What are you doing here?” He pushed Ewan into the kitchen. “You need coffee.”

Ewan managed a jerky shrug. “I’m fine, just fine,” he said, looking nervously at Carli. “But I had to come and get you. You were the only one who could get through to Fang.”

“You know what Fang did to me,” Kidder said. “I’m not going back there.” He saw Ewan’s doubtful glances at Carli. “It’s okay, you can talk freely. But there’s no way I am going back there. Fang was beyond mad. It was like white jaw and the fits and rabies all mixed together. I’m good here.”

“No, dog, you gotta come back,” Ewan said earnestly. “You were the only one that Fang ever really listened to and he needs it.”

“He listened to me because I wasn’t using,” Kidder said. “And look what happened last time I tried to talk to him.”

“But it’s different, Kidder,” Ewan said. “He’s lost the stone. He’s wanting to get us all together and to go after Violet. She’s the one who stole the stone, he said. He went up there to give her the hard word, because he said she was disrespectful, and then…” Ewan’s face screwed up. “This is hard, dog. But Violet got the stone and now Fang is kind of lost, or crazy but different crazy, and you need to stop him trying to make us be a pack. It’s not right, dog.”

“Would you care to repeat that?” Bron said.

Kidder whirled around, instinctively ready to go to fur before controlling himself. “It sounds like something bad has happened,” he said. “This is Ewan,” he added, waving a hand in the direction of Ewan who was trying to hide behind Carli. “I’d say it was a trap, but Ewan isn’t like that.”

Bron stared coldly at Ewan who was trembling as he retreated towards the cabinets. “Are you sure?”

Ewan gave a yelp as his back hit a cabinet and instinctively flowed into fur. As a wolf, he was skinny and scarred, with thin, dirty fur matted on his back. He cowered, tail between his legs and his ragged ears flat. Kidder put a reassuring hand on Ewan’s head. “It’s okay,” Kidder said.

“What was that about Violet?” Sir Dylan said from behind Bron.

“The kitchen is getting crowded,” Carli said pragmatically. “Perhaps we should move into the living room. Come on, Ewan, it will be fine.” She ignored Gareth’s wary look and ran a hand over Ewan’s ears.

“If you will all wait in the living room, I’ll get Ewan back out of fur,” Kidder said. “But keep it calm, please. He’s not good with people.”

It took time and patience, but eventually Kidder brought Ewan into the living room and coaxed him into a chair near the fire. “It’s okay,” Kidder said. “You can sit here and be safe. Just tell everyone what you told me.”

Ewan shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s like I told Kidder,” he mumbled. “Fang lost the Orache Stone to Violet. He said she beat him up and chased him away. He wants to get everyone together to get it back, but I thought that Kidder could maybe talk to him because Fang isn’t right in the head.” He thought for a moment. “I mean, he was always a headcase but now he’s gone Dagenham, you know, two stations past Barking.”

“Violet is dead,” Bron said flatly.

“No, mate,” Ewan said. “Fang said that she beat him up and took that stone – and good riddance because it did him no good and it didn’t do much for anyone near him.”

“I found her remains,” Bron said. “She’s gone.”

Ewan twitched. “I don’t know about that, mate,” he said. “But Fang was in a right mess when he got back to The Iron Sickle. He was covered in blood and his paw was half hanging off. It took him ages to heal up.” He glanced nervously around the people watching. “Now he’s just sitting and muttering about the stone. And he wants us all to go with him. But Barky’s already gone back to London and I haven’t seen Fleabag around for a while either. There’s only me and Yobber and Stee that’s around regular, and we can’t deal with an elfen.”

“It sounds like he is telling the truth,” Sir Philip said quietly. He leaned carefully towards the battered werewolf. “Ewan, would you like something to eat?”

Ewan’s eyes darted around the room, waiting to see if it was a trick before cautiously nodding. “I wouldn’t say no to a biscuit or two,” he said.

“Carli, please could you get Mortimer to make something for our friend here,” Sir Philip said quietly. “And then you and Ewan and Mortimer should perhaps stay in the kitchen while we discuss this.” He nodded carefully at Ewan. “But you can leave any time you like,” Sir Philip said. “It’s just that you may like to know if Kidder will be coming around later.”

“And there’ll be food?” Ewan asked.

“I’m sure that there’ll be plenty,” Sir Philip said, nodding at Carli who stood and held the door open for Ewan.

They waited until the sound of Mortimer fussing in the kitchen reached them, then Bron closed the door. “This is all wrong,” he said.

“Ewan is convinced that Fang has lost the stone,” Kidder said. “And he’s terrified of being taken to face Violet.” He glanced across at Bron. “I’m really sorry that you’re having to deal with this,” he added.

“Thank you,” Bron said quietly. He stood and started pacing. “Mark was very clear,” he said. “I remember every word. He said explicitly that Fang had attacked Violet and then fled, taking the stone with him. There wasn’t any doubt. And there was blood all over her room.” Bron ran a hand through his hair. “I thought the blood was from Mark or from Fang where Violet had resisted.”

“Fang was going to see Violet,” Gareth said. “He overheard Mark talking about getting the stone and using it to heal Claire.” He looked at the two Knights Templar. “I overheard the end of the conversation, but I didn’t really think about it. I asked Rhys about it, but he ducked the subject. We should talk to him again.”

“I can be quite persuasive,” Bron said.

Sir Philip looked thoughtful. “We should speak to Fang first,” he said. “As we’re going into Lady Mary’s domain, we need to get her permission and her aid if possible. We should be able to shake some answers out there.”

“If Fang has any sanity left, that is,” Bron said. “It’s a cruel toy, the Orache Stone, and from what Ewan said, there isn’t much of the old werewolf left.” He frowned. “If Fang doesn’t have the stone, if Ewan is right, then Violet had the stone when Mark was there.”

“I’ve known Mark Davies for years,” Sir Dylan said. “He’s always been pretty steady but he’s had a tough time recently with his wife.”

“She died the day before yesterday,” Kidder said quietly. “Rhys was called away to deal with things.”

“We should have a whiteboard in here,” Gareth said. “But let me try and get some sort of timeline. Violet was murdered three days ago. Mark said that he chased Fang away but couldn’t save Violet but Ewan said that Violet chased Fang away and didn’t mention Mark.”

“There’s no point talking to Mark at the moment,” Kidder said. “From what Rhys said, Claire died two days ago and Mark’s been mad with grief. I know that Luke is sorting out normal security, but Rhys wanted me to keep a proper watch over things, like a good wolf, so he handed over to me, in a way.”

“Mark could have taken the stone,” Bron said, his voice drained of all emotion. “If he reached Violet when she was weakened after battle, and she would have been weakened if she had fought the holder of the Orache Stone and won, then…” his voice trailed off.

Unnervingly, Gareth continued. “Mark could have taken the stone for himself, to try and heal Claire. But he would have been too late.”

“That would mean that he murdered Violet,” Sir Dylan said. “And that now involves two domains and two princes.”

“You can’t go rushing in and accusing him,” Kidder said. “It sounds like the pack is a mess after Claire’s death.”

“If Mark has the stone then we can’t leave it too long either,” Bron said. “The stone will be taking over.”

Sir Philip stood and stretched. “We call Lady Mary and then speak to Fang,” he said. “Lord Marius and Steve Adderson will be available tomorrow if we need to ask Mark some hard questions later. I don’t think that there will be anything to gain if we interrupt a funeral.” He reached over and put a hand on Bron’s shoulder. “If it’s the murder of an elfen by a werewolf, we shouldn’t interfere. It’s supposed to be strictly non-normal. But with the Orache Stone being involved, we have a reason to be part of it. Whatever happens, we’ll stand with you.”

Bron swallowed and then nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “He turned and stared into the fire. “I wouldn’t want to interfere with someone else’s grief. Perhaps the madness has taken Fang so far that he’s forgotten he has the damned stone.”

“I’ll give Lady Mary a call,” Sir Dylan said. “And then we can pay a visit to Fang. Things should be clearer after that.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.