Catching Up

I want to apologise to those who get email notifications, because tomorrow I’m posting seven separate chapters in the Cookies and Carburettors that I’ve been posting on Royal Road. You are going to get inundated. However, in theory, I’m more or less caught up now so notifications should settle down a little. The theoretical notifications should go something like, Monday is the White Hart, Tuesday is the Writing Prompt, Wednesday is any chat or news, Thursday is what I’m posting on Royal Road and Friday, well, I’ve been told that Amazon doesn’t like authors writing reviews. It could get me banned from there. This means that I won’t be posting reviews on Fridays and Saturday and Sunday should also be quiet.

I’ve been even more flaky than usual. Not only have I been glued to the Euros24 Football (I had a hangover the size of Kent after England lost in the final) but I’m also having problems walking which has had a knock-on effect on my mental health. I am so unimpressed by the whole business. I’m finally pulling out of the pity party and hopefully back on track.

I am considering setting up a spin off to the White Hart, over near Warrington and the domain of Lord Cerdig. If you have any opinions on that, I’d love to hear them. I’m sure that I could have a lot of fun with a connected set of characters.

My other ambition is to make a tray of burnt butter biscuits. Given my struggle with walking and standing, it may be a challenge, but I think that my husband and son would enjoy them so that makes it worth the effort – and finally I’d be able to post a pic on the Royal Road story!

If you have any requests or want to suggest anything, please let me know. Even if it’s just a stern reminder to do some darned writing. And I need to leave a reminder to you – you are awesome and thank you for reading.

Incomplete

You can read the story from the beginning here. This chapter was inspired by Writing Prompt Number 29

There was something peaceful about a shop after closing. Mrs Tuesday and Hettie were gossiping happily as they restocked the herbs while Umbran checked over the books. Noah looked up from his notes as Martin wandered towards the café’s counter. “I don’t suppose that you remember when you first drank coffee?”

Martin frowned. “I think I was dragged to London by Lady Freydis back in the time of…” He thought for a moment. “Lord Ragnar was refusing to leave York as there were rumours of plague, but Lady Freydis wanted to see the ruins of London after the Great Fire. Of course, there was so much arguing and discussion that a lot had been rebuilt by the time we got down there, but Lady Freydis made the most of it and insisted on visiting a coffee house and one of the new theatres.” He smiled at the memory. “She had to disguise herself as a man to get into the coffee house, of course, and then got into trouble for swearing.” He shrugged. I suppose it was around 1680 or so. And the brew was a lot harsher than it is today.” He looked around. “Where’s Lady Freydis?”

“She usually leaves after the lunch rush,” Noah said. “But I think she left a little earlier today.” He looked warily at Martin. “She was talking about St Tenenan.”

Martin sighed. “I love my wife dearly, but she drives me to madness.” He ran a hand through his hair. “She decided randomly that I should have St Tenenan as my saint’s day.” He caught Noah’s look of confusion. “I may be a vampire but I can still have a saint’s day. For centuries, people didn’t celebrate birthdays the same way. Time wasn’t marked by dates but by calendars. Of course, when I was young and in Rome there was a proper calendar but Lady Freydis was always used to the idea of saint’s days. And I knew St Tenenan, many centuries ago. He was a good man, and he was incredibly strong in faith. We worked together against some wraiths before he went to Brittany.”

Noah shook his head. “I’m never going to get used to this. All I know is that Lady Freydis said that while she hadn’t found all the books, she had enough of them to make a start.” He held up his hands. “I’ve no idea what she’s starting.”

Martin groaned. “Neither have I, and it worries me.” He started to pace. “Do you have any idea about what’s in the books?”

Noah shook his head. “I’ve got some pics on my phone,” he said, flicking through the screens. “I took some to show her.”

Umbran came up behind Martin. “What sort of books were they?”

“They were all sorts,” Noah said. “There was a gardening book and one about steam engines. Mia would know more about those as they’re stored in the library.”

Mrs Tuesday walked round the counter. “Does anyone want a drink? I’m dying for a cup of tea. And Lady Freydis can’t do too much damage with a book about steam engines. She’d never have the patience to follow the instructions.”

Martin relaxed. “That’s a blessing,” he said, then froze as Noah showed him a picture. “That can’t be right.”

Umbran leaned over to look and the colour drained from his face. “That’s not right. It’s not possible. All copies of that spell were destroyed.”

Mrs Tuesday looked between the two of them. “What spell?”

Umbran started pacing. “I created it, a long time ago. It was an exercise, an experiment to push my abilities.” He avoided looking at Martin. “But it went wrong.”

Noah stood slowly and went to put an arm around Hettie. “How dangerous?”

“It’s not exactly dangerous,” Umbran said. “It’s a cross between a summoning and a creation and similar to the imp that is attached to Steve.”

“I’m not tolerating another menace like that,” Martin said grimly.

“It calls on two principles. It summons the essence of an extinct animal and creates a vessel for them.” Umbran paced quicker. “I was aiming for a cave lion.”

“Those vicious bastards are better off extinct,” Martin growled. “They were nasty, smelly, evil minded…” He took a deep breath. “What’s the catch?”

“I destroyed all my notes and tracked down every copy that I could find,” Umbran said. “The spell must have been copied into separate sections.”

“And if you don’t have all the sections?” Martin asked, visibly holding on to his temper.

Umbran shrugged miserably. “I should never have tried this. All sorts of things can go wrong, but the biggest problem…” He stopped and faced Martin. “Ghosts. Lots and lots and lots of ghosts. They were animals, but not recognisable ones. I suppose they were the old creatures, such as dire wolves or aurochs.”

“Did you see any dinosaur ghosts?” Hettie asked.

“You’re not helping,” Martin snapped. “How likely are the ghosts?”

Umbran went back to pacing. “I never managed to bring a creature without at least two or three ghosts. We have to stop Lady Freydis.”

“She’s been gone a while,” Noah said.

Martin looked ready for murder. “My darling wife. She knew that I missed a variety of house cat that is no longer found. She wanted to give me something for my name day.”

Noah lurched, falling back against the counter. “What the hell was that? It felt like an earthquake.” He looked around at the undisturbed shop.

Mrs Tuesday and Hettie were both pale and breathing fast and Martin’s fangs were showing. Umbran picked himself up from the floor and steadied himself against a café table. “I think that Lady Freydis has finished the enchantment.”

“What sort of enchantment has that sort of effect?” Martin snarled.

“One that wasn’t correctly cast,” Umbran said quietly.

Mia came racing out, followed by a billowing cloud of shadowy black feathers. “Someone help! Lady Freydis is in the library and it’s all going wrong.”

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Photo by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash

You can read the story from the beginning here. This chapter was inspired by Writing Prompt Number 28

“It’s all the fault of Sir Thomas,” Ian grumbled.

Noah glanced at him as they lugged the boxes of equipment and props into the house. “What is?”

“His old cook, or his family’s cook, or whatever it was, gets on with Mrs Tuesday.” Ian pushed through a doorway and into a bare room. “I didn’t think that it would be possible for them to be a bad influence on each other.” He carefully set the box down. “All this stuff just for some photos?”

“I want to get a load done that can feed through campaigns over the next few months,” Noah said. “So I’ll be taking Summer pics as well as a load of Christmas stuff. I thought if we spent a few days getting good images, I could then concentrate on the books that Kadogan and Lady Freydis want.”

Ian groaned. “I’d forgotten about the books,” he said. “I’m glad I’m not the one supposed to be writing them.”

“Noah has been diligent and competent,” Lady Freydis said, sauntering in with a third large box that was stuffed with candles. “Failing to plan is planning to fail. He showed me work that he has done, and I was happy with it.” She set the candles down. “I’ll go and fetch the last box.”

Ian looked at Noah. “Why is she here?” he asked. “And why is she being subtle?”

“She’s being subtle?” Noah asked.

Ian nodded. “She wants something with this house. When she heard about the renovations, she insisted that I bid for the contract.” He checked the box. “I’m pretty sure that she influenced me getting this job as well. That doesn’t sit right with me. I like to get my own work fair and square, but I never do this sort of work.” He pulled out a strand of wooden beads. “I’m up to the job, of course, but I usually just stick to plumbing.”

“I hadn’t planned to use this location,” Noah said. “I mean, it’s useful, but I thought I’d keep the White Hart as the frame.”

If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” Lady Freydis said as she returned. “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Where should I put the lunch?”

Ian winced. “You’ve been reading that book of proverbs that Callum got for his birthday.”

“There’s one that I don’t understand,” Lady Freydis said. “It goes, Name not a rope in his house that was hanged. Was it translated from the Portuguese?”

Noah looked at her blankly. “I’ve no idea,” he said. “Why don’t we start with the candles. I’ve got examples from all the ranges and I thought we could arrange them on stairs.”

“The stairs are completely unfinished,” Ian said. “There’s no point plastering there if you’re going to be carrying heavy kit up and down and risking knocks to the walls.”

“That could work well,” Noah said. “If the stairs are rough and ready, they’ll make a good contrast to the candles. I’ll have to be careful with the lights.” He frowned. “Candle flames can be tricky to shoot so I’ll be checking my filters as well.”

“The stairs will make a good picture,” Lady Freydis said. “Apparently a clean fast is better than a dirty breakfast but why don’t you have something to eat before you start. That way well begun is half done and you can have the energy to work well.”

Noah closed his eyes for a moment. “I’ll go around with my phone and take some quick reference shots. I can work out some of the staging while we eat.” He looked at the boxes. “I can also start getting my gear unpacked.”

“And I can give you a hand as there’s no point trying to get any building work done while you’re taking pictures,” Ian grumbled. “There’s a sandwich shop across the road. I’ll go and get something now.”

“Not at all!” Lady Freydis said. “Hettie and Mrs Tuesday have been trying to impress each other and have provided lunch.”

“Really?” Noah said hopefully. “The shepherd’s pie last night was amazing.”

“Hettie was asking Jeanette about food grade flowers as well,” Ian said. “She sent a fruit cake and it was amazing.”

Lady Freydis held out the top box. “Hettie packed a lunch. Mrs Tuesday said that you need to eat it or she’ll have words for you.” She thought for a moment. “I don’t think that there’s anything in the book of proverbs that covers Mrs Tuesday.”

“I’m not saying anything,” Noah said. He turned to Ian. “You know that they’ll be watching every mouthful we eat,” he said.

“Yep,” Ian said. “Mrs Tuesday will be making the evening meals but Hettie will be cooking for the café. I think the standard of meals is about to go up.”

“Hettie has agreed to bake sausage rolls, pork pies, quiches and muffins,” Lady Freydis said, sauntering towards the hall. “She’s converting the back room to a kitchen.”

Ian winced and watched her walk through the door. “I suppose I’ll be helping with the renovations,” he grumbled.

“It’ll be worth it,” Noah said, following Lady Freydis. He pulled out his phone to get some shots of the unfinished, dusty staircase, then froze. Lady Freydis lifted the tread of one of the stairs and removed a book-shaped package, slipping it inside her jacket. He turned around and sat on the bare boards next to the box of lunch. “What have the ladies sent us?”

Ian reverently opened the box. “They’ve sent a lot,” he said. “And we had better eat most of it.”

Noah stared at the contents. Golden pork pies were nestled next to sausage rolls, chicken sandwiches brimming with salad, slices of treacle tart and a slab of apple cake. Tubs of pickled onions and apple chutney nestled next to fresh apples and a hunk of crumbly Wensleydale cheese. “Do you know a good gym I could join,” he asked. “Because I think that I may need it.”

Hettie

Photo by rivage on Unsplash

You can read the story from the beginning here. This episode is a response to Writing Prompt Number 27

Sir Thomas knocked on the door of the neat cottage on the edge of Wetherby. He frowned a little as he waited. Everything was in order but it looked tired. A lot could change in ten years, especially if some of the people involved were vindictive. He forced a smile as the door opened. “Hello, Hettie, it’s good to see you.” He took a deep breath. “I hope you don’t mind me visiting.”

“Tommy?” Hettie stared at him. “It is you. What are you doing here? I didn’t expect… I mean, it’s been so long…” She trailed off and held out a tentative hand before shaking her head and getting some control. “Don’t just stand there. Come in.”

Sir Thomas smiled. “Right away.”

“I’ve nothing in,” Hettie grumbled as she led him into the immaculate cottage. “I’ve no idea what to feed you. Come into the parlour.”

“Can’t I sit in the kitchen with you?” Sir Thomas asked. “I always loved sitting in your kitchen.”

“Of course you were with me in the kitchen,” Hettie said, guiding Sir Thomas through a door and into a gleaming kitchen. “I was the cook.”

She had been much more than a cook to Sir Thomas and his brother. “You were the best,” Sir Thomas said. “I didn’t realise that you’d leave. I came back from London and you’d gone.”

“Well, your parents didn’t want to keep me on, not with you gone,” Hettie said. “They said that perhaps I should retire.” She sniffed as she filled the kettle. “Like I couldn’t manage the kitchen just the same as ever.”

“You were always an amazing cook,” Sir Thomas said, quick to change the subject. “I really missed it when I went away to school.”

“Your mum used to get me to make up parcels of the good stuff for you every week,” Hettie said. She waved Sir Thomas into a kitchen chair. “She missed you a lot.”

“I was lucky,” Sir Thomas said. “We didn’t do so bad. Not like a lot of the other kids.” His contemporaries had grown up with nannies and tutors. He had grown up in the rambling manor house with the erratic love and affection of his parents, the gardeners, the household staff and especially Hettie as she reigned in the outdated kitchen. “They didn’t get another cook, you know,” he said. “Mother usually cooks for her and father. The staff live out.” He fought the instinct to help Hettie with cups and plates. She may be older but she was still as sharp. “I got your address from them after I saw you at The White Hart.”

“So you were there,” Hettie said. She avoided his eyes as she placed a large mug of tea in front of him. “I thought I saw you.”

“I didn’t come empty handed,” Sir Thomas said. “I called in at a few places.” He lifted a clutch of bags onto the table. “There’s some biscuits from Betty’s in there.”

“Spending how much on stuff from there!” Hettie exclaimed. “And what are you doing in that sort of place.”

“You can’t live in York and ignore its most famous tea shop,” Sir Thomas teased.

“And what were you doing in The White Hart?” Hettie asked quietly. She pulled out the artisan bagels. “In fact, what are you doing around here at all? The last that I heard was that you went down to an investment bank.” She pulled the old fashioned pat of butter from the fridge. “When did you become a Knight Templar?”

Sir Thomas watched her old, capable hands as she sliced the bagels. “That’s how it goes in our family,” he said. “The oldest son gets the title and the land and the younger sons go into finance.” He glanced at Hettie but she was still keeping her eyes on the bagels that she slipped into a toaster. “It’s a long story. I was happy enough in London and Robert was getting used to farming when I had a chance to meet up with Robert just outside Evesham. I was on the way to visit a friend, he was on his way to check out some breeding stock, so we had dinner and stayed overnight at this country pub.” He swallowed. “It was disputed territory between packs.” He took a careful sip of his hot tea. “That’s packs of werewolves.” He watched Hettie meticulously unpack the bags. “Robert was killed. There wasn’t a bite. He was thrown across the room and his neck broke.”

“I’m sorry, Tommy,” Hettie said. “You were always close.”

“I saw you at the funeral, but I didn’t have a chance to speak,” Sir Thomas said.

“It wasn’t really my place,” Hettie said. “But I wouldn’t have missed it.”

“I agreed to spend some time with the Knights Templar, as a way to perhaps avenge Robert, or at least to stop anyone else suffering the same way.” Sir Thomas watched Hettie pull the bagels from the toaster and expertly spread them with butter. “Though I’ll have to return to the manor when father retires. As it is, I’ve been thrown in the deep end a little and I’ve been in a few tight spots and so the Knights Templar sent me to get some experience working with non-normals who don’t want to rip my head off.” He grinned. “A few have demanded to see the manager and there’s an elfen romance going on so I’ve had to duck out of the way of flying plates a few times, but it’s not been too bad at all. It’s a lot better than the bank.”

“I always said that you could do anything, Tommy,” Hettie whispered.

“And that’s how I know,” Sir Thomas said. “I mean, I always knew that there was something, but I could put all the pieces together. You’re a stray, aren’t you? A werewolf without a pack.”

Hettie sat abruptly on the kitchen chair. “My pack broke up when you were about three,” she said. “I couldn’t leave you and Robert. You were like my own cubs. And what with one thing and another, I never found another place.”

Sir Thomas reached over and took her hand. “Let me introduce to some of the pack at The White Hart,” he said. “They’re not scary at all. They’re a sub pack of York, but they’re known to be welcoming to outsiders. The head of the pack runs a plumbing business and his wife is a market gardener. They have a few youngsters around that could use an older figure.” He managed a smile. “You know, someone to tell them to mind their manners and bake them biscuits and cakes and be good at listening.”

Hettie shook her head slowly. “I’m not sure about that,” she said.

“I know what happens to lonely werewolves,” Sir Thomas said quietly. “I know that you’re holding on, but I don’t want that for you. If you can bear it, I’ll find you a place in York, just so you’ve got a bolt hole, and I’ll introduce you around.” He gently squeezed her hand. “You were everything to me when I was a kid,” he said. “You were my rock. You looked after Robert and I in ways that mother and father didn’t understand. Please, let me look after you.”

Hettie swallowed but straightened in her chair. “I think that you’ll find that I’ll look after you, Tommy, and don’t you forget it. Now tell me all about what you’ve been up to and who you’ve seen and I’ll make us a nice dinner.”