Back at the White Hart

The Most Important Meal of the Day

“Why can’t I pour coffee on this muesli thing?” Lady Freydis asked plaintively. “I like coffee.”

“You’re supposed to put milk on muesli,” Jasmine said helpfully. “That’s what it says on the packet.”

“I’ve known some people put vodka on muesli,” Mrs Tuesday said as she bustled around setting up the grill. “But that’s not something I fancy.”

“I’m sure you’ve driven a few people to have vodka for breakfast,” Fiona said. She took a deep breath. As part owner of a magical supply shop at the edge of York, she had to navigate between keeping things discreet for the visiting tourists and allowing her very miscellaneous staff to blow off steam. The hour before opening, as Mrs Tuesday and Lady Freydis set up the café and Jasmine helped Fiona set up the shop, was usually chaotic. Coffee on muesli, however, was new. “Why are you eating that stuff anyway?” Fiona asked as she carried a large box of palo santo incense over to the display unit. “Don’t you usually eat sugar with a light dusting of frozen blueberries?”

“It’s supposed to be healthy,” Lady Freydis said.

Fiona paused to look at her. “You’re an immortal elfen,” she said. “Why are you worrying about being healthy?”

“I don’t want to live forever with bad health,” Lady Freydis said primly.

“You could have a milky coffee on it,” Jasmine said helpfully as she carried a large box of books over to the shelves. “That’s a mix of both.”

Lady Freydis looked at the young werewolf thoughtfully. “You mean like a latte?” she asked. She put down the bowl on the counter and pushed it away from her. “What did you have for breakfast?”

“Bacon, sausage, fried egg and tomato,” Jasmine said happily. “I like to start the day with something inside me.”

“Only a werewolf could eat that every morning and stay so slim,” Lady Freydis said.

“Sometimes I have baked beans as well,” Jasmine said as she energetically shelved the books. “By the way, Fiona, we’re almost out of the Green Witch Journal.”

“Before you ask, I had a slice of toast,” Mrs Tuesday said, whisking the bowl out of Lady Freydis’ reach and substituting with a bowl of spray cream, frozen blueberries and sugar. “And I’m glad you all had plenty of fuel, because that coach party that booked at the last minute is early.” She nodded through the large front windows. Two large coaches were pulling up.

Fiona hurried across the floor to open the door. The coaches weren’t due for another two hours when more staff would be around to deal with 150 eager customers. She hoped that her small bowl of cereal would be enough to keep her going. At least she hadn’t poured coffee on it.

This is my response to last week’s writing prompt. I have missed the characters of Tales from the White Hart so I thought I would have a little look to see how they were doing these days.

Artiste in Action

“I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this,” Martin said, striding into the White Hart. “I’m going to lose my mind.”

Mrs Tuesday raised an eyebrow. “We don’t want an insane vampire running around.” She handed over an Americano. “What’s your wife done this time?”

“Callum got placed in an art show,” Martin grumbled. “I told Lady Freydis that it reflected well on her, but she’s insistent that she learns to ‘do art’ better.”

Mrs Tuesday frowned. Martin usually handled his marriage to the erratic and absolute ruler of York’s non-normal community with devoted ease. Seeing him so rattled was worrying. “What sort of art?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Martin looked hunted. “She’s been reading books, and you know what she’s like when she reads books.”

Mrs Tuesday tapped her fingers on the counter. The shop was quiet but it was early yet with only a couple of werewolves checking out the dog treats. “Lady Freydis is late,” Mrs Tuesday said. “And that’s worrying.”

Martin shook his head. “She’s obsessed with being a barista. The most powerful creature in York and she makes coffees.”

“Maybe she needs some books about coffee,” Mrs Tuesday said.

“She’s read all of them,” Martin said wearily. “Believe me, I’ve checked.”

Lady Freydis swept in, unhampered by her armfuls of bags. “Martin, darling, could you fetch the rest from the taxi?” She disappeared into the back room. Martin briefly cast his eyes up to heaven before striding out to the taxi. Mrs Tuesday grinned as he stalked back in with another armful of bags.

“I’ll leave these here while I fetch the rest,” Martin bit out, dumping the bags next to the till and turning back to the door.

Lady Freydis wandered out, tying on her apron. “I thought that I should show support for Callum’s efforts,” she said airily. “And I’ve often been told that I have an artistic side.”

“The brownies always comment about your artistic displays around the coffee machine,” Mrs Tuesday said. The shop’s cleaners grumbled about the dried grasses and ribbons being in the way but it was a comment.

“I am very artistic with coffee,” Lady Freydis agreed. “But I should support Callum.”

Mrs Tuesday picked her words. “You’re a good prince to have such care of your people,” she said. “But perhaps you should encourage Callum rather than outshine him. You could sponsor a display of his work as support while concentrating on your skills with coffee.”

Lady Freydis shoulders slumped as she looked at the supplies. “I read the books to understand Callum,” she said. “And they are so pretty. But it isn’t coffee.” She ran a tender hand over her coffee machine. “Why are there no more books about coffee?” she asked plaintively. “I wouldn’t have to buy art supplies if there were more books about coffee.”

Martin strode in with another armful of bags. “Maybe you can make pictures with coffee,” he suggested, dumping them next to the collapsing heap near the till.

“Maybe you should write a book about coffee,” Mrs Tuesday suggested, ignoring the sudden look of horror on Martin’s face. “After all, you know all about the stuff.”

Lady Freydis took a deep breath and smiled happily. “That’s a perfect idea!” she said. “I’ll start at once.” She hesitated. “Well, after I’ve made all the coffees.”

Pursuits and Distractions

Image from Unsplash, taken by Oli Bekh

Fiona watched Martin stride into the White Hart with another bag of books. “We sell books here,” she said. “We have books on Tarot, Wicca, Meditation and a whole lot of the spiritual side of things.” She looked at the bulging bags. “We don’t usually store books on flower arranging.”

Martin turned haggard eyes to her. “I’m desperate,” he said. “Do you have any idea what it’s like living with someone who’s trying to write a book? It’s hell.”

Mrs Tuesday wandered up, grinning. “What have you got today?”

“Crochet!” Martin announced. “There is a crochet thing called Amigurumi.” He pulled out a handmade rabbit. “She’ll have to fall for this.”

“Didn’t you get that yesterday?” Fiona asked.

“That was origami,” Martin said with a shudder. “She took the book and paper down to her domain and now the court is infested with flying paper cranes. They’ve started attacking the cats that get in and have built nests in the library.”

Fiona was sympathetic. Martin’s wife may be the ruler of all the vampires, werewolves and assorted non-normals, but Lady Freydis had her own way of exerting authority. She operated mainly through fear, apprehension and chaos and it was once again echoing through the faery realm and spilling over to the shop. “The back room is full of books,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded. “You can’t move back there.”

“Ian has been encouraging her to make cards with Jeanette,” Fiona said. “And Jeanette told him what she thought of that idea.” She moved off to help a couple who were deliberating over some Tarot cards.

“I can see his point,” Martin said. “Ian’s the head of the werewolf pack. He’s got his hands full. He doesn’t need the distraction of my wife being, well, her.”

“Jeanette’s the wife of the head of the werewolf pack, with all that goes with it, and runs a gardening business with two young kids,” Mrs Tuesday said tartly. “She has more than her hands full. Fortunately Lady Freydis agrees with me.”

“She needs a hobby, or at least a short term distraction,” Martin said. “She’s bored, and we know how much trouble that causes.”

Lady Freydis strolled in, also carrying bags full of books. She side stepped the shoppers and slipped behind the counter. “I’m determined to encourage Callum by using my time fruitfully.” She ignored Mrs Tuesday’s snort of disbelief.

“That would be an interesting change,” Martin said. “But look!” He held out the crocheted rabbit like a talisman. “Wouldn’t you like more of these?”

Lady Freydis looked at it thoughtfully. “It has a certain charm, but it isn’t pink,” she said. “I suppose I could ask the brownies for some.”

“But it’s creative,” Martin said desperately.

“There are books about everything,” Lady Freydis sighed. “So many lovely books telling you how to do things. So I bought some books on how to write books.” She disappeared into the back room and returned without the bags and tying her apron. “I’ll start reading them as soon as I’ve finished my shift.”

Conversations

“She’s up to something,” Mrs Tuesday told Fiona as they watched Lady Freydis pace behind the counter.

Fiona shuddered. “It’s probably about the book,” she said. “She’s still obsessed with that.”

“There’s not that much to write,” Mrs Tuesday said as she watched Lady Freydis wander over towards Kadogan.

Fiona frowned. “Kadogan has been a bit twitchy as well,” she said. “He’s complaining about our lack of social media.”

“We haven’t got social media,” Mrs Tuesday said. “The elfen can’t cope with computers because of the flicker of the display, the boggarts all use the newsletter and the werewolves and brownies go straight to the website.”

“He’s part owner,” Fiona said. “That means he has a say. He could insist.”

Kadogan was brooding next to the candle display. “Lady Freydis,” he said, bowing. “I have some concerns and would like advice.”

“I, too, would like your considerations,” Lady Freydis said, returning the bow.

Kadogan marshalled his thoughts. “Writing is hard,” he said.

“Indeed it is,” Lady Freydis said.

“And only three candles have been ordered on the website,” Kadogan said. “So few know of that website as we do not have the things…” He scrambled for the words. “On the internet, the Instagram and suchlike.”

“I have worked so hard to write the book on coffee,” Lady Freydis said sadly. “And it would be a great addition to the shop.”

“The candles are neglected,” Kadogan said. “As the newsletter merely talks about herbs and incense.”

“I would love to give my benevolence to the shop with the coffee book,” Lady Freydis said. “But ruling takes so much of my time.”

“The candles are popular in the shop,” Kadogan said. “But they are neglected and unsold elsewhere.”

“I am confident that the elfen princes would buy my book,” Lady Freydis said mournfully.

“She’s not wrong there,” Mrs Tuesday said. “It would be a best seller for the non-normals, just for novelty value.”

“If only there was someone who could write about candles on … things for us,” Kadogan said.

“If only there was someone who could write the coffee book for me,” Lady Freydis said.

Fiona looked at Mrs Tuesday. “I can see where this is going,” she said.

“A ghostwriter is not a ghost,” Lady Freydis said carefully.

“Is a ghostwriter someone who writes about ghosts?” Kadogan said. “Could they write about candles?”

“A ghostwriter is someone who writes what they are told to,” Lady Freydis said. “For example, a ghostwriter could write a book about coffee, under my complete direction, and put my name as the author.”

Kadogan looked thoughtful. “Or candles. This ghostwriter could write about candles. They could write about candles on the things.”

Lady Freydis nodded. “They could write about coffee and candles on the things and they could write books on coffee and candles,” she said.

“And at least some of the rest of the shop,” Kadogan said airily, waving his hand over the 97% of the shop that was neither coffee nor candles. “Fiona, we need a ghostwriter. Please find one.”

“I will contribute to the hiring costs,” Lady Freydis added. “After all, they will be writing about my coffee here.”

Fiona ran a tired hand over her face. “This is going to be hell, isn’t it?”

“It’s going to be hilarious,” Mrs Tuesday said. “I can’t wait.”

Just the Job

Noah carefully stretched the whisk by the cord and hung it over the chopping board. “How about that?” he asked.

Naomi tilted her head to one side. “Hmm. I little more to the left,” she said.

Noah carefully didn’t look at the woman that was supposed to be his girlfriend. It felt more like a cross between slave driver and pet owner. “How about this?” he asked.

“Hmm,” Naomi said. “Perhaps back a smidgeon.”

They had started off okay but then her Instagram had started getting likes. Then they’d got a website and blog. “How about this?”

“Hmm. I guess so, but move the brush a little higher,” Naomi said. “No, the other brush.”

It wasn’t even a whisk. It was a fancy egg separator that had been send as part of a deal. When things had taken off it made sense for them to quit their jobs to concentrate on their social media content. “How about that?” Noah asked.

“Hmm. How about a tiny whisker higher?” Naomi said.

She was playing games again. As the Instagram account had all been in her name, the money followed it. Noah moved his hands across the brush without actually touching the thread. “How about that?” he asked.

“That’s way too high!” Naomi said. “Lower it back down.”

And various demands had drained his savings so that he was completely reliant on his earnings as Naomi’s assistant. “How about that?” Noah asked.

“That’s better,” Naomi said. He could sense her frowning behind him. “Are you sure about that rolling pin?”

“It’s part of the deal,” Noah said. Naomi had thrown a fit when his aunt died and left him a few hundred in her will, money that he had immediately stashed away while lying about paying for car repairs.

“Hmm. The deal is pretty sweet,” Naomi said. “Perhaps a smidgeon higher.”

Noah adjusted the rolling pin. “How about that?” he asked. He did as least as much work as Naomi but he didn’t have enough money to replace his worn jeans while she wore designer shoes.

“Hmm. Yes, that’s perfect. Can I leave it all in your capable hands?” Naomi said. “I need to head to the spa. I need to be glowing for the collaboration tonight.”

“Sure, no problem,” Noah said. He was used to taking the pictures, captioning, posting on Instagram, X, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Slack, Substack, the website, blog and adding to the newsletter. It was second nature to him now. Besides, if Naomi was going to the spa then straight across town for the collaboration, that gave him plenty of time to grab the few things he wanted to take with him, sell his car and get a train ticket to York.

The job advert had obviously been posted by a lunatic, offering a small salary and accommodation in York in return for ghost-writing and ‘social media things.’ Kadogan sounded a little crazy, but after talking with Kadogan’s rep, it sounded like a reasonable sort of crazy, and that had to be an improvement.  

A New Start

Noah followed the elderly lady through the shop and up the stairs. “You sell magic stuff here?” he said. He really should have asked more questions.

“There’s a mix,” Mrs Tuesday said. “There’s knickknacks for the tourists, basic stuff for those who like to pretend and a few bits of the good stuff for those who appreciate it.” She bustled along the corridor at the top of the stairs. “Your office is there, and this is your bedroom. She ushered him into a bright, clean space. “The bathroom’s through there and there’s a kitchen down the hall. Tea and coffee and that are included but if you want evening meals you need to tip up £10 every Friday.” She gave Noah an unnervingly long look. “And you look like you need feeding up. It’s cottage pie tonight.”

“That sounds nice,” Noah said weakly.

“It is,” Kadogan said, appearing suddenly. “You are Noah Pickering and are here to write internet things.”

“That’s right,” Noah said cautiously.

“You must write about candles,” Kadogan said.

“And coffee,” the stunningly beautiful woman behind him said. She pushed past Kadogan and smiled at Noah. “I am Lady Freydis and I require that you write a book about coffee.”

“What sort of book?” Noah asked bewildered.

Lady Freydis looked confused. “The sort of book that people read to learn about coffee,” she said. “I have some notes.” She pushed a large, pink gift box towards Noah. He dropped his bag on the bed and grabbed the box.

Noah looked helplessly at Mrs Tuesday. “What sort of timeline?”

“I wish to see progress before the winter solstice,” Lady Freydis said. “Last week was the spring equinox. You should work several days a week, but not Sundays.”

“And write about candles,” Kadogan added.

“Why don’t you leave Noah to unpack,” Mrs Tuesday said. “I’ll show him everything and he can make a start tomorrow morning.” She shooed the two powerful elfen away and then looked back at the stunned Noah. “They mean well.”

Noah opened the box. Inside was a drift of notes on random items. “This book on coffee?” he began, rummaging through the napkins and paper bags. “How technical does it need to be?” There were even tiny notes scrawled over a train ticket.

Mrs Tuesday patted his shoulder. “It should say that coffee is brown and hot,” she said. “Fiona will be able to talk to you tomorrow and she’s the sensible one. She’ll sort out time off, hours, what’s needed and all that.” She grinned. “And Kadogan said that you liked gin, so I’ve left you some in the cupboard.”

Noah watched her leave and then looked around. His accommodation may be a bedsit, but it was spacious, comfortable and welcoming. The crazy collection of coffee trivia looked daunting but it made him smile. And it sounded that he would get time off, a wage and even food. He took a deep breath. It was a new start. Perhaps he would have a chance to be happy.

The Lake House

Noah sighed. He’d got the social media accounts up and running and scheduled a week’s worth of content. He’d made a list of blogs and listings pages that may be interested in running features on the White Hart. He’d coaxed a few of the White Hart staff to create their own pages and then had a difficult conversation with Mrs Tuesday to persuade her to only like and share family-friendly content. He couldn’t put it off any longer. He had to start on the coffee book.

He pulled a pizza delivery menu out of the box and read the flowery script inked along the edges. Coffee comes from the mystical lands of Arabia and Abyssinia, fabled home of the phoenix and source of the mystical frankincense (available at the White Hart starting at £5.99 for 50g plus post and packaging and the packaging is really nice).

Noah winced. Apart from anything else, you couldn’t put a price in a book that could be around for years. He tapped the content into his word document, carefully editing ‘£5.00’ to ‘competitively priced’. He could hear Lady Freydis outside the door.

“I don’t see the problem,” she said.

“You didn’t paint that picture,” a man’s voice growled. “You bought it from eBay. Callum is working very hard to be an artist.” He sounded like Jeanette’s husband.

“I want to be supportive,” Lady Freydis said.

Noah shook his head. The next quote was scrawled across the back of a supermarket receipt. Great fortunes were won and lost in shares traded in the coffee houses of London, although the South Sea Bubble was somewhat of a problem. Note to ghost – was the South Sea Bubble Tudor or Victorian? I can’t remember.

“He’s worked so hard on his art,” the man said. “You could hold an exhibition of his stuff instead of printing off a picture of a lake house.” Noah stood ready to dash out if needed. Lady Freydis was a major nuisance and definitely willing to be the grit in someone’s Vaseline but he didn’t want her intimidated. “You know what the lad went through.”

Noah heard the grim determination in the man’s voice and opened the door to lend support.

“He kept his fur flat and his tail high,” Ian said. “You know what he was like when we found him.” He caught sight of Noah and stuttered to a halt.

Lady Freydis opened and shut her mouth a few times. “We play at things,” she finally said airily. “It’s like roleplaying. I play a fairy princess and Ian plays a werewolf, like Callum and Jeanette.”

“Fairy princess?” Noah said limply. He glanced at Ian and flinched. The man looked like he’d killed too many people and was glaring at Lady Freydis like he wanted to add her to the total.

“I would be very grateful if you could consider Callum’s feelings in this, your highness,” Ian snapped before bowing, spinning on his heel and storming off.

Noah looked blankly at Lady Freydis. “Fairy Princess?” he repeated.

“Twinkle,” she said brightly.

The Plot

Noah walked into the kitchen and then ducked as a plate sailed past his head and smashed into the wall behind him.

“I hate him!” Lady Freydis said.

Mrs Tuesday eyed her carefully. “Which one is it now?” she asked. “Hello, Noah. It’s curry and chips tonight.”

“That sounds amazing,” Noah said.

“He thinks he’s so smart!” Lady Freydis snapped. “I’ll show him.”

“Where’s Martin?” Mrs Tuesday asked. “Your husband is good at plots.”

“I’m good at plots as well!” Lady Freydis said. “And coffee. I’m good at coffee.”

“You’re excellent at coffee,” Noah said, sliding past her and heading to the cupboards. “Should I lay the table?”

Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “Not until she’s stopped smashing china. How’s it going?”

“Not bad,” Noah said. “I’ve got some ideas for a campaign to promote the candles.” He looked carefully at Lady Freydis. “And I need to ask about promoting coffee evenings.”

Lady Freydis looked thoughtful. “I’m extremely good at plots,” she said. “I’m almost as good at plots as I am at violence.”

Noah looked at her doubtfully. She looked toned in an understated way, but her blonde loveliness looked too elegantly classy. On the other hand, the floor was covered with smashed plates. “And research,” he said quickly. “The notes I found on the bus ticket were incredibly helpful and sent me in a new direction.”

“I want that book!” Lady Freydis announced.

“I’m working very hard on it,” Noah said carefully.

Lady Freydis waved an airy hand. “Well, the coffee book is nice but this is a different book, and old book. Lord Cerdig has it but I want it.”

Mrs Tuesday narrowed her eyes. “Martin threatened to rip out Lord Cerdig’s spine if he ever caught him with you,” she said. “And I think the last thing you said to Lord Cerdig after you broke his arm was that if he touched you again, you would disembowel him and eat his spleen.”

“Seriously?” Noah stared at them.

“I was practising being reasonable,” Lady Freydis said. “Though Martin is still angry. I should have broken both arms.” She paced up and down the kitchen. “But I want the book.”

“He’ll only trade it for kisses – or worse,” Mrs Tuesday said.

“I can’t use the computer thing,” Lady Freydis said. She turned to Noah. “You can use the computer thing.”

“Yes?” Noah said apprehensively.

“Lord Cerdig is an idiot,” Lady Freydis said. “He wishes to put on a great feast for the Spring Equinox, but fears to approach us for the supplies. He desires edible glitter, fears to buy elsewhere but is terrified of Martin and I.” She sighed in satisfaction. “We have edible glitter and gold sprinkles and spray cream and he has the book that I want. It should merely be an equitable trade. However, he is a slug.”

“That’s insulting slugs,” Mrs Tuesday said. She nodded to Noah. “You can set the table now.”

“Noah Pickering, you will contact an evil person called Ferdi on the computer thing. You will say that you have overheard conversations and are willing to provide such items as Lord Cerdig desires for a price. As you are risking your existence by sending such things to our enemy, the price is high.”

Noah blinked. “But I won’t really be risking my existence, will I?”

Mrs Tuesday patted him on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Probably.”

“The price you will ask is the book,” Lady Freydis continued. “As you are now known as a researcher, this will be seen as a rational request.” She paced faster in the small kitchen. “Why aren’t you serving curry with rice?” she asked Mrs Tuesday.

“Because I’ve always done it with chips,” Mrs Tuesday said.

Lady Freydis turned to Noah. “You must insist that the book isn’t delivered here because you will tell that loathesome toad Ferdi that you do not want it near me. I’ll provide a location where Ferdi can leave it. You can retrieve it.”

“Ferdi might follow him,” Mrs Tuesday pointed out.

“Not if I decide to give him a lesson in behaviour,” Lady Freydis said. “He’s been importuning the brownies again. I was going to set an example anyway. I’ll just ensure that it happens during the pick up time.” She smiled a little maliciously. “And if it’s seen that he’s in disgrace, that slug Lord Cerdig won’t suspect that I’m using him and neither will Ferdi.” The smile grew wider. “I could have so much fun with this – after I’ve got my book.” She turned to Noah. “I will extract the contact information from Steve today and you can immediately contact the toad Ferdi.”

“It can wait until after dinner,” Mrs Tuesday said. “And I’ve done sponge pudding and custard for after.”

Noah looked at the two women and shook his head. He ought to worry. He ought to wonder what craziness he had got caught up in. But all he could think of was how much fun it sounded. “I can’t wait.”

The Deal

“Lord Cerdig got the delivery,” Ferdi said. “He’s thrilled. And you managed to get some of that edible gold dust included.” He shook his head and then looked around cautiously. The cheap café was crowded and Noah and Ferdi were safely ignored but Ferdi was rigid with tension. “The thing is, Noah, me old mate, I don’t suppose you could get those shiny sugar pearls in pink?”

“Lady Freydis tracks pink things,” Noah lied. “Kadogan is obsessed with candles and Lady Freydis is all about coffee and pink. I don’t think that I can sneak that stuff out.”

“Lord Cerdig would be very generous,” Ferdi said.

“I’m still waiting for the book,” Noah said.

Once again Ferdi looked around furtively before sliding a packaged wrapped in a plain brown cover. “Lord Cerdig isn’t going to rat on a deal.”

Noah mentally rolled his eyes. This ugly little guy in front of him had watched far too many bad movies. He pulled out Beeton’s All About Gardening and started leafing through. He carefully didn’t stop on page 115 where the notes on Espalier Roses were covered by a strange script but stopped at page 129 and the entry for Fleming’s Machine. I should have been a spy he thought. “This is the copy,” he said. “We’re good.”

“What do you need it for?” Ferdi asked. “And get it out of sight. We could be being watched.”

Noah slipped it into his jacket pocket. “I need it for private research,” he said loftily urgently.

Ferdi frowned at him. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.

Noah felt a twinge of apprehension. “What do you mean? Like I said, I want the book for research.”

“No, this White Hart promotion stuff,” Ferdi said. “I did some research. Your early stuff really rocked before you hooked up with Bethany. You were building followers like crazy. You could drown her out. I saw the ‘mutual parting’ posts that she put up but it didn’t fool me. She lost her meal ticket and she’s steaming. People are starting to comment on the lack of decent content. You did that. Why are you slumming it with Lady Freydis?”

 Because I wasn’t sure that I could even do a basic promotion and content job, Noah thought. Because I thought I was helplessly underqualified for making Instagram posts. I’d forgotten that I’d done it by myself in the past. “There are resources in York that aren’t easily available elsewhere,” he said loftily. “Research can be… tricky. And access to Lady Freydis makes some things easier.”

“If you’re hoping to get into the Rose Library, I’d give up now,” Ferdi said. “No-one gets in there.

Noah shrugged. He had no idea what the Rose Library was, but he wasn’t going to admit that. “And I got access to this book because of my position,” he added.

Ferdi leaned forward. “Listen, anything you can get for Lord Cerdig, any gossip, any early access to news and even any pink shiny cake decorations, get in touch,” he said urgently. “We can make a lot of money out of this. I can get stuff to Lord Cerdig without anyone in the White Hart suspecting a thing, and he’ll pay. He’s obsessed with Lady Freydis.”

“I’ll think about it,” Noah said, carefully not to look eager.

Ferdi checked his phone and winced. “Fiona needs me to meet up with Lady Freydis and I think it’s going to be a little harsh.” He straightened his jacket. “But I can always smooth talk the ladies.” He stood. “But don’t forget what I told you and stay in touch,” he said.

Noah watched Ferdi leave and then looked down at the book. Maybe he should go back to his dormant accounts and see where he could go with them. He’d talk to Lady Freydis and Kadogan about borrowing equipment and keep it all above board and honest. And what the hell was the Rose Library.

The Librarian

This is a book that I own and I can’t bring myself to write over it like the magician that annotated the version belonging to Lady Freydis, so I added some decorative pieces that were close.

“You’ve been decorating again,” Lady Freydis said. “It’s very soothing.”

“I felt like something calm,” Mina said, looking around the library. “I’m not sure about the candle, though.”

Lady Freydis raised an eyebrow. The library sprawled over four levels and had vast swathes of bookshelves filled with thousands of flammable books. “It’s not often that you see a candle in a library,” she said. “But it’s not near any books.”

Mina looked at the candle, carefully placed next to the window overlooking the garden and well away from the bookcases. “I just felt that it gave a good glow,” she said. “If I could rely on electricity, I could get one of those LED lights that flicker, but I don’t think that they feel the same.”

Lady Freydis shrugged. “You are in fairyland,” she said. “That’s why you can move the walls around and alter the time of day. I’ll enchant the candlestick so that nothing other than the candle will catch fire while it’s in Faerie.”

“Thank you,” Mina said. “I like a candle now and again. Oh, before I forget, I’ve found another part of the ritual.” She pulled out an elderly book and opened it at the entry regarding the velocity of elevators. “Here, the notes down the side add another part of the invocation.” She looked a little warily at Lady Freydis. “Will it be safe?”

Lady Freydis waved a hand, dismissing the thought. “How long have you been in Faerie?” she asked.

Mina thought for a moment. “I can’t remember,” she said, then turned back to the book. “I can’t read the writing here, but it looks like the rest of the script.”

“Time passes strangely here,” Lady Freydis said, ignoring the book. “Are you happy?”

Mina looked at her carefully. “Yes?” she said. “I mean, I am happy. I gossip with the brownies, I get good food, I’ve got a warm bed and all the books that I could ever read.”

“What about sex?” Lady Freydis asked.

Mina flushed scarlet. “Lots of women don’t have sex,” she said. “Like nuns. Or teachers.”

Lady Freydis’ eyes narrowed. “I think that you don’t know teachers as well as you thought you did,” she said. “What year was it when you came here?”

Mina thought for a moment. “It was my birthday,” she said. “14th September 1994 and I had just turned 14. You found me and brought me here and it was the best birthday present ever.”

Lady Freydis thought back to the skinny homeless girl she had brought in on impulse after rescuing her from an unpleasant situation. The girl had been fed, housed and clothed, and the brownies had taught her a semblance of manners, but Lady Freydis had an uncomfortable feeling that she should perhaps have done more. “What about your education?” she asked.

“I read all the time,” Mina said. “Are you wanting to get rid of me?”

Lady Freydis was famous for her hard heart but it cracked a little at the fear in Mina’s voice. “Not at all. After all, you are an excellent librarian. But I feel responsible for you. And you do not have the internet thingy.”

“I don’t need the internet,” Mina said. “And I promise that I’ll work harder.”

Lady Freydis waved a hand. “I shall find someone to teach you the internet thingy,” she said. “And I shall also make it possible for you to perhaps have willing sex, though not necessarily with the same person. And I will find a good way to reward you for finding all these references.” She nodded firmly. “I shall return soon.”

Mina watched Lady Freydis leave before gently placing the book on the main desk. She doubted that it would help with the turbulent times ahead.

The New Batch

“Are you feeling okay?” Noah asked as Lady Freydis staggered into the kitchen and bounced off the kitchen table.

A tall, dark man followed, grimacing when he saw Noah. “You must be the new social media officer,” he said. “I’m Martin, and I’m the husband of Lady Freydis.” He turned to his wife. “How much have you had?”

“You like pink,” Lady Freydis told him. “And you are soooo sexy.”

Martin took a steadying breath. “What have I said about this?” He turned to Noah. “Could you make some coffee, please.”

Noah eyed the swaying Lady Freydis and nodded. “No problem.” He filled the kettle. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Noah, and I suppose I’m the ghost writer. Is she alright?”

Martin glared at Lady Freydis. “She is for now,” he said grimly.

“Not coffee!” Lady Freydis said. “Not that instant stuff. I need proper coffee, in a copper coffee pot.”

What?” Martin said.

Mrs Tuesday strolled in. “I thought I’d hidden it well enough,” she said. “I think she caught me making the new batch this morning.”

“What’s going on?” Noah asked.

Lady Freydis spun around and lay on the table, kicking her legs as her golden hair fell down, swinging wildly. “I’m not a teapot,” she told Martin.

“Give me the bottle,” Martin ordered.

“I make a liqueur of sorts,” Mrs Tuesday said to Noah. “It’s mainly apples with a few extra ingredients and it’s supposed to sit for a year. I make a new batch as soon as the last batch is ready. If Lady Freydis saw me making the new batch this morning, she may have gone looking for the stuff that’s finally ready.” She shook her head. “You may want to avoid drinking any yourself.”

“You can’t have my bottle,” Lady Freydis giggled. “I’m a prince.”

“You’re also a wife,” Martin said. “And you’re currently a disgrace. What would Lord Lothair think if he saw you now? And how about Lord Cerdig?”

Noah spooned generous amounts of instant coffee into a large mug. “A nice cup of coffee will make you feel better,” he said, more in hope than expectation. “And I’ll write a chapter about coffee being good for clearing the mind.”

“Mina is better at reading books,” Lady Freydis said. She pulled a bottle from her jacket and managed to sit up at the third attempt. “But she doesn’t know the internet thingy.”

“Reading books is good,” Noah said, pouring boiling water on the borderline illegal quantity of coffee granules.

“How have you managed to drink all that?!” Martin said staring at the dregs left in the bottle. “You must be mad!” He turned to Mrs Tuesday. “You need to call Dr Williamson. Noah, get that coffee over here now.”

Noah topped up the thick brew with enough cold water to make it drinkable and hurried over to the table where Martin was struggling with Lady Freydis.

“Give me the bottle!” Martin said, wrestling for what looked like a reused novelty gin bottle. “You’ve drunk over half!”

“I’ll mix up a mustard plaster,” Mrs Tuesday said.

“I haven’t had sex with Mina,” Lady Freydis said. “But I think that she should. But not with you either. She’s keeping a secret.”

“What sort of secret?” Martin finally prised the bottle away from his wife and handed it to Mrs Tuesday.

“It’s a special secret which you can’t know,” Lady Freydis said.

“Who’s Mina?” Noah asked.

“That’s a very good question,” Martin said as he turned back to his wife. “Who is Mina?”

Qualified Success

Noah got out of the car and looked up and down the quiet street. “What’s the big deal?” he asked. “I’m just here to pick up a book.”

Ian didn’t meet his eyes. “I’m not going to interfere with the way Lady Freydis does things,” he said. “And I’m not going to talk about what I think she should have done, because I’d be here all day. I’m just here to keep an eye on things.” He glared at the pristine front door in the well kept street. “You may see some weird stuff,” he said. “Keep an open mind.”

“How weird?” Noah asked. “I work with Mrs Tuesday.

Ian snorted with laughter. “Fair point,” he said. “But it could get weird and it’s not necessarily safe.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what Lady Freydis is up to, and I really dread to think what she might be plotting. Just trust me and I’ll get us out of there if things go south.”

Noah rapped on the door. “I’m just picking up a book,” he said. “What could possibly go wrong with that?”

Ian looked at him. “You’ve met Mrs Tuesday,” he said. “How do you think she’d be if she wanted to be awkward? I mean, more awkward than usual.”

Noah shivered and knocked again. “That’s worrying.”

A tall, pale figure answered the door. “You must be from Lady Freydis,” she said. “Come in.”

Noah followed with Ian close behind. “Thank you for seeing us, Miss Marianne,” he said. “Lady Freydis confirmed that you had the payment.”

“I have indeed received payment,” Miss Marianne said. “It arrived this morning.” She led them into a living room that was overflowing. “It is always gratifying to find someone willing to pay in yarn.”

Noah looked around. Every surface was covered with miscellaneous balls of knitting yarn. “It looks very colourful,” he said.

“It is a fair trade for a book,” she said. “And it’s the least I can do for poor, poor Lady Freydis, left a widow.” Miss Marianne picked up a book. “She must be so lonely.”

“She was widowed?” Noah asked, looking at Ian. “I didn’t realise. Still, at least she’s happy now with Martin.”

Miss Marianne stiffened. “Martin?” she asked, dangerously quiet. “The Roman Martin?” She carefully placed the book on the table.

“Yes, they were married a few summers ago,” Ian said. “I thought that you knew.”

“How dare she!” Miss Marianne snapped. “How DARE she!” She paced up and down amongst the yarn. “Martin is mine! He has always been mine! That trollop has always been a nasty, dirty…”

“Don’t talk about my prince like that,” Ian warned.

“I’ve been waiting for Martin to reawaken for centuries,” Miss Marianne snapped. “That slut never appreciated Ragnar and whored around with any leech that would have her.”

“I said don’t talk about Lady Freydis like that,” Ian growled.

Noah, his eyes wide, quietly picked up the book and slipped it inside his jacket. “I’m sure that you’ll find someone special just for you,” he said, the platitude slipping out before he could stop it.

Miss Marianne threw back her head and howled. Yarn lifted into the air and started spinning through the room. “Martin should be mine. He is mine. You wait! She’ll regret the day she stole my man.”

Ian snarled at her. “Does Martin know that he’s supposed to be yours?” he snapped. “Because it was Martin chasing Lady Freya. She could have had her pick of non-normals – from inside York and anywhere. Martin won. He wanted her and no-one else.”

“Not helping, man,” Noah muttered, trying to duck the flying yarn. A magazine from the table was joining them with a sheaf of papers. He edged towards the door.

“Martin must have been enspelled,” Miss Marianne yelled. “I’ll rescue him.”

“You can’t rescue him from his own desires,” Ian yelled. “And who would want you when they could have Lady Freydis? You’re a pale shadow!”

“Really not helping, man,” Noah tugged on Ian’s arm as he retreated further. He managed to force a smile at Miss Marianne. “It was lovely meeting you, ma’am.”

“Get out!” Miss Marianne screeched. “And tell that cheating whore that I’ll be rescuing Martin from her dusty fingers before she can blink her crusty eye.”

“What did you say?” Ian growled.

“I look forward to meeting you again, Miss Marianne,” Noah said, opening the door behind him and ducking a hail of yarn as he tugged Ian out with him. “Bye!”

Back in the car, Noah sat and tried to work out what had happened. He turned to Ian. “Is there something that you’re not telling me?”

Ian winced. “Lady Freydis is never in a hurry to explain things, but she’s an elfen, I suppose you could call her a fairy. She’s powerful, ancient and complicated. She’s in charge of all the non-normals in York.”

“Non-normals?” Noah asked.

“You know, vampires, werewolves, boggarts, brownies, goblins – that sort of thing,” Ian said uncomfortably. “I’ll get Mrs Tuesday to explain it to you.” He rested his hands on the steering wheel and grimaced. “But we didn’t get the book.”

Noah pulled Modern Machines and Power Generators by Rankin Kennedy, 1904 edtition, from his jacket and checked the page for Vortex engines. The now familiar script curled around the margins of the page. “We got the book,” he said. “But perhaps we need to warn Lady Freydis.”

“I think it’s Martin we need to warn,” Ian said, getting out his phone. He looked back at the green door that was slowly turning black. He hit dial and passed the phone to Noah. “You talk, I’ll get us the hell out of here.”

Unrequited Love

“A little bit to the right,” Noah said as Callum posed with a tray of coffee cups. “That’s perfect, thank you.” He quickly took the pictures then relaxed. “We’re done.”

Callum’s shoulders sagged. “That was harder work than I thought it would be,” he said, putting down the tray and jogging towards the back room. “I’ve got to go – the delivery will be here any minute.” He disappeared through the back room on the way to the warehouse.

“So now you know that the warehouse man is a werewolf,” Martin said.

Noah jumped. “I didn’t hear you,” he said, not quite meeting Martin’s eyes. “I felt a bit bad making him stand for the shot. It’s hard holding a position, but Callum was very patient.”

“Possibly more patient than your ex-girlfriend,” Martin said. “And you also know that I’m a vampire.”

“Yep,” Noah said. He slipped his camera into its case and pulled up the tripod. “Mrs Tuesday explained everything.” He forced a smile. “It’s okay.”

“I promise you that I won’t feed on you,” Martin said. “I’m not some ravening beast.”

Noah shrugged. “I’m adjusting,” he said. “But it’s…” He looked Martin in the eye. “You know something, it’s fun. It’s crazy. I have no idea what’s going to happen, and if it’ll be dangerous or even make sense. But it’s an adventure.”

Martin grinned. “You’ll be alright. And it’s not likely to be dangerous, apart from to your mental health. After all, you work with Mrs Tuesday.” He glanced over at the old boggart who was busy switching on the grills. “We’re almost ready to open up.”

“And I’ve got all I need to push the coffee evening that’s set up for tonight,” Noah said. “There’s been a lot of hits on the posts so it should be good.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Martin said. There was a banging on the door. “I’m sorry, we’re not yet open,” he called.

There was a pop and the door flew open. “Martin!” Miss Marianne cried as she ran into the shop. “How could you do this?” She brandished a rather tired bunch of pink roses.

“What?” Martin said.

Noah took a step back and looked across at Mrs Tuesday. She urgently beckoned him over and he took it as a sign to pick up his equipment and get out of the blast zone.

“I remember when you were Aelfhelm,” she said. “You always smiled at me, you always knew my name.”

Noah caught Martin’s helpless glance. “Miss Marianne was surprised to hear about your marriage,” he said, carefully stressing the name.

“You are a charming lady,” Martin said carefully. “But I never meant to mislead. My sincere apologies, but I am a married man.”

“He’s mine!” Lady Freydis snapped as she followed Miss Marianne through the door. “Go and find yourself a werewolf.”

Miss Marianne whirled around, flinging the hapless roses to one side. “Tramp! You’re whoring around on my love just as you did with poor, poor Ragnar. You’ve enchanted him!”

“Lady Freydis glared at Miss Marianne. “I’ve been faithful to Martin since Ragnar died, how dare you suggest otherwise! And at least I’ve never pined over someone who couldn’t remember my name. If I’ve stayed faithful, at least it’s with someone who shared my bed – and not just for sleeping if you know what I mean!”

“Martin, you can’t love this!” Miss Marianne called.

Martin backed away and bumped into the display of herbs. “I took an oath to be loyal to Lady Freydis of my own free will,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d notice.”

Mrs Tuesday leaned against the counter and narrowed her eyes. “We’ve got fifteen minutes before we’re due to open to the public and a coach tour with sixty passengers due in an hour,” she said to Noah. She looked around the crowded shop with all the breakable ornaments and overstuffed shelves. “We may have a problem.”

“How could I not notice my beloved?” Miss Marianne bellowed. “My twin flame!”

“Of course you believe that stuff,” Lady Freydis spat. “You didn’t even notice when he awoke. Get out of my shop.”

Noah slid his camera onto the safety of a shelf and, with all his courage, walked towards the two women. “Ladies,” he said. “I know that feelings are running high, but no well mannered and gentle lady would want to have this sort of discussion in a shop of all places. Especially as customers could be in here at any minute and they could be anybody.”

Lady Freydis looked at him sceptically but Miss Marianne bought into it. “I will not be a spectacle for tradesmen,” she said. “Martin, follow me!” She stalked out of the White Hart.

“Martin is not following you anywhere,” Lady Freydis snarled, following her out.

“I’d better switch on the coffee machine myself,” Mrs Tuesday said. “It looks like Lady Freydis is going to be a bit occupied.”

“I don’t remember even seeing that woman before,” Martin said, looking shocked.

“It’s elfen,” Mrs Tuesday said. “You know what they’re like. Which is the one that’s in love with the scrapyard again?” She grinned at the man who had just walked in. “That’s Jack,” she told Noah. “Don’t trust him an inch but enjoy the ride.”

“Why is Lady Freydis brawling in the car park?” Jack asked as he wandered towards the café area.

“Hell’s Teeth!” Martin said and sprinted out of the door.

“May I trouble you for a ginger tea?” Jack asked. “And perhaps one of your incomparable muffins? And please, if you love me, what the hell is going on?”

Books and Candles

“Are you sure about the candles?” Noah asked.

Mina nods. “The library is enchanted against most fires. A candle isn’t a problem.”

“Of course it’s enchanted,” Noah grumbled. “It’s in fairyland.”

“It’s in Lady Freydis’ domain,” Mina said primly. “You’re taking the whole fairy thing very well.”

Noah grunted and peered at the shelves. “Why are the bookshelves so dark?”

“To make a nice contrast between the dark of ignorance and the light of knowledge in the books,” Mina said. “To be fair, it wasn’t all Lady Freydis’ idea. I’ve redecorated a few times, but she likes to keep the books in a dim light.”

“I’ll wear one of those headlamps next time,” Noah said. “Is there a system? I’m supposed to be finding books on candles.”

“I’ve tried to keep a system,” Mina said. “However this library is used by elfen. Werewolves are pretty good at putting things back where they found them and so are vampires and even boggarts, but elfen seemed to see an organised library as a challenge.” She led Noah over to the shelves and ran a knowledgeable finger along the spines. “You want a book on candles to distract Kadogan, right?”

Noah glanced at her. “I was ordered to come here and get a book on candles to help me write a book.”

“Because Kadogan has a thing about candles,” Mina said. “And he’s just split up with his girlfriend, so he’s looking for a distraction.”

“I didn’t realise that he had a girlfriend,” Noah said. “What was she like?”

“I didn’t really see her,” Mina said. She glanced over at him. “I don’t really leave the library much, but I met her a few times. She seemed nice, but she was far too calm with Kadogan.”

“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Noah said.

“The best elfen relationships usually involved furniture being thrown,” Mina said. “Lady Freydis had that with her first husband, but it got complicated. It’s different with vampires.”

“And Martin is a vampire,” Noah said. “They seem really happy together.”

“They absolutely are,” Mina said.

“Are you a…” Noah trailed off.

“It’s very rude to ask,” Mina said. “As it happens, I’m a normal, just like you.”

“But you said you didn’t leave the library much,” Noah said.

Mina shrugged. “I came here when I was quite young,” she said. “And I’m comfortable here.” She turned. “Here you are. The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday. It was first published in 1861. I’m sure that it’s the sort of thing that Kadogan expects you to read.”

“I hope that he’s not expecting a lot of readers for this book,” Noah said uneasily.

“Probably not,” Mina said. “Why don’t you come back tomorrow? I’ll dig out the old household books on candle making and anything I can find on coffee for you.” She smiled with an unexpected glimpse of mischief. “And I think I have a lead on one of the books that Lady Freydis wants. I’ll double check it, but it may need another trip to Ferdi.”

Noah grimaced. “He’s a slimeball,” he said. “What are those books about anyway?”

“Lady Freydis is researching a spell, that’s all I can say,” Mina said. “It was considered powerful enough or problematic enough for the creator to spread the ideas and notes over several books. They originally were all in one library but they got scattered. Tracing them is a little tricky, especially as they were a random lot.”

Mina shrugged. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll have more for you then.”

Noah looked at the young woman thoughtfully. “I’m sure you will,” he said.

Outside

“The thing is,” Lord Cerdig said as he paced in front of the illusory fire. “The thing is, she’s never given me a chance.”

Umbran watched him impassively. “I fail to see what I can do,” he said. “She’s elfen, old, powerful, unpredictable and skilled. She also has a devoted husband and loyal allies.”

“That White Hart thing has brought so much power and influence to York,” Lord Cerdig grumbled. “Ragnar was weak and ready to fall, but now…” He looked around him. “I need you to help me.”

“And what can you offer me in return?” Umbran asked.

“Dammit, I don’t like talking about this sort of thing,” Lord Cerdig said. “But when it all comes down…” He paced around Umbran’s study. “You’ve stayed buried under Warrington for over a century. You stay in your three rooms and worry. I know that you get all the books and papers, and I know that you have the internet. But it’s not much of a life.” Lord Cerdig poked an angry finger at him. “I’m supposed to be your prince, the one who looks after his people. The loyalty is supposed to go both ways. I’m supposed to look after you.”

“I’m happy here,” Umbran said.

“No you’re not,” Lord Cerdig contradicted. “You feel safe, away from all the scary things that you imagine up there.” He frowned. “Don’t make me talk like this. It isn’t natural. Just go and speak to Lady Freydis. It won’t kill you.”

Umbran looked up at the dim ceiling. He wasn’t an elfen, not exactly, but he had more than enough power to carve out this tiny domain, safe away from the worry of what the normals would do next. “I may not be happy, but I am not unhappy.”

“Don’t tell anyone that I’m this sentimental, but try and imagine being happy instead,” Lord Cerdig snapped. “As your prince, I’m ordering you to go and speak to Lady Freydis. And yes, I know that I can’t force you but I’m saying it anyway.” He grimaced. “And this planner is supposed to help with anxiety. Try using it.” He pulled a flowery notebook from his pocket and slapped it into Umbran’s unresisting hand. “I swear I’m going soft. But dammit, just go outside.” He spun on his heel and left Umbran to his imagination.

A Different Problem

“So how are you coping with this?” Noah asked as he escorted Mina through the arched tunnel that was the new short cut between the library and the café annexe.

Mina wrinkled her nose. “Working with the candles is chaotic. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming but sometimes it’s fun.” She grinned happily up at him. “But I’m getting caught up in the arguments between Kadogan and Miss Marianne and while that’s entertaining, I’m not getting much done.”

“Didn’t she throw a steel wax melting jug at him?” Noah asked.

Mia nodded. “He ducked so it got dented and then she burst into tears and flounced off. I think that they’re flirting.”

“Seriously?” Noah shifted the box of books in his arms. Lady Freydis had been very clear that he needed books for the chaotic research. “Whatever happened to just going for a drink?”

“Elfen have their own ways,” Mina said. “And with them both being obsessed with candles, it gives them something to bond over. And at least it takes the attention away from Martin.”

Noah nodded and then stopped at the arch between the annexe and the main shop. Mrs Tuesday was furious.

“You march in here, throwing accusations around, giving out orders like lord of creation, when you’re nothing but a snotty nosed, jumped up, piece of…”

“I can take it from here,” Fiona said, walking past Mrs Tuesday and glaring at the stranger.

Noah assessed the scene. A stranger was ignoring Mrs Tuesday’s glare and looking around. It was still an hour before opening and while he knew in theory that Lady Freydis and Mrs Tuesday weren’t the helpless ladies that they appeared to be, Fiona was definitely vulnerable. He pushed himself between Fiona and the stranger. He didn’t want this man to think that the ladies were an easy target. “What’s going on?”

“This is Sir Craig,” Mrs Tuesday spat. “A Knight Templar and scum of the earth.”

“This man is being difficult,” Lady Freydis said. “And he says that he’s from the government this time.”

“We’ve been through this before,” Fiona said. “We have all the permits for the new candle business…”

“And possibly soap,” Lady Freydis added.

“Everything will be done in accordance with the rules and regulations,” Fiona added.

“There is concern about you running these establishments while being understaffed,” Sir Craig said. “I’ve come across a few complaints from people about your attitude to shoplifters.” He gazed straight at Noah. “And if there aren’t enough bodies in the shop then shoplifting is more likely to happen.” He looked at Lady Freydis. “And more chance of someone accidentally wandering into the Fairy realm without anyone realising. I’ve had a few words with Dave and I’m not happy about how you added this extra room.”

“You leave Dave alone!” Mrs Tuesday snarled. “He’s a good lad that can do without your interference.”

“I know that you’re running short staffed, especially now that Jasmine has moved to Leeds,” Sir Craig said. “And I know that even with your new colleague, Mina, the brownies have their hands full working for Kadogan and Miss Marianne. You usually call on Adele, but she’s got caught up in her family business and Elaine is rushed off her feet keeping up with Dave. Half of the werewolf pack that would help out got drafted to help out that ongoing issue in Otley and the brownies are always booked up.” He sighed. “I want to help. I’m not here to cause trouble.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted. “That makes a change.”

Sir Craig cast a wary glance at her. “As you know, sometimes the Knights Templar get fixated on one type of non-normal. It can lead to complications.” He looked around, unafraid but guarded. “If we could have a regular placement here for our Squires who are training, it could help give them a more rounded look.”

Mrs Tuesday narrowed her eyes. “Are you trying to stop another incident like Jason.”

Sir Craig looks straight at Mrs Tuesday. “Sir Jason was my comrade and like a brother to me. We got things wrong. You may not believe me, but I’m glad that he’s getting his best life.”

“I’ll have to discuss this with Steve and Kadogan,” Fiona said. “I’m not sure that some of our clients would appreciate having Knights Templar on the premises.”

“I’m not sure if some of your knights will be happy washing up and stocking shelves,” Mrs Tuesday said.

“You’re short of staff and have a limited number of people who could work here.” Sir Craig said. “Who else is going to apply?”

The bell on the door rang and everyone instinctively turned towards the sound. “I’ll apply,” Umbran said.

Stickers

Photo by Fiona Murray on Unsplash

Sir Thomas, newly created Knight Templar and defender against vampires, werewolves, boggarts and miscellaneous dark creatures, peeled off a shocking pink unicorn sticker from his face as he followed Dave into the Paladin’s Citadel. “Is it always like that?” he asked.

Dave led the way past the study and dining room to the kitchen. “I stay away from drink, usually, but today is worth a beer.” He peeled off a bright orange star sticker from the back of his hand before opening the fridge and pulling out a beer to hand to Sir Thomas. “It could have been worse.” He took a beer for himself.

Sir Thomas popped the tab and took a long drink, absently pulling a rainbow stick from his hair. “It wasn’t really the stickers,” he said. “It’s more the way Miss Marianne threw a table at Kadogan.” He opened the fridge and pulled out a prepared casserole. “And it wasn’t even the table flying two inches about my head. It’s more the gleam in Kadogan’s eye when he chased Miss Marianne out of there.” He looked at Dave. “Is it safe to eat a casserole made by a boggart?”

“It’s not only safe, it’s a necessity,” Dave opened a cupboard and pulled out plates. “Mrs Tuesday is an amazing cook. Even better, she lives to feed us up. I hand over money on a Friday and I get home cooked goodies all week. Mind you, Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader are pretty good as well. I think they collude on it.”

Sir Thomas gave the casserole a doubtful look before piercing the cling film and sliding into the microwave. “I’m not sure about eating something that’s part collusion.” He took another long draught of his beer and set the timer. “What was going on between Lady Freydis and Umbran?”

Dave set the plates down onto the kitchen table. “I’m not exactly sure,” he said. “I think it goes something like this. Lady Freydis is in charge of the non-normals in York and she’s currently feuding with Lord Cerdig. Umbran has been the power behind Lord Cerdig for around 150 years now. Lord Cerdig would have sunk long ago without Umbran’s support. But now Umbran is here and saying that he wants a change and Lady Freydis is suspicious.”

Sir Thomas dug out the cutlery. “I’d be suspicious,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t have him in the shop.”

“But if Umbran’s in the shop, Lady Freydis can keep an eye on him and try and pry out what he’s up to,” Dave said. He drained the last of his beer. “I normally never have two beers, but Luke has us covered tonight and I think it’s worth it.”

Sir Thomas watched the microwave as it counted down. “When I came to York, I expected to be confronting dark horrors and sinister beings. Today has been…”

“It’s a hell of a first day,” Dave said. “Noah got pulled into the argument about candles, Kadogan was flirting with Miss Marianne, Mrs Tuesday didn’t help when she was arguing about the new range of coffee flavoured muffins and Lady Freydis was being deliberately disruptive with the stickers. She knew that Kadogan wanted classic styling for the candle range.”

“What were Fiona and Steve arguing about?” Sir Thomas asked. “They’re co-owners with Kadogan. Surely they should be leading things.” He picked up a serving spoon. “Or does anything happen as a result of planning.”

Dave watched Sir Thomas dish up two large servings of lamb casserole. “Nothing happens here as a result of careful planning,” he said, grabbing the ketchup and two more beers from the fridge. “Remember, I’m the Tarot Reader and I don’t believe in Tarot cards.” He set the beers and ketchup on the table. “I’ve no idea what Fiona and Steve are up to. I’m more worried about Lady Freydis.”

Sir Thomas quickly washed his hands in the kitchen sink and several more stickers fell into the water. “You mean when she threw the small hurricane of stickers?”

“No, that’s not usual but it’s not worrying. She’s a powerful elfen and you can expect a few demonstrations of her capabilities now and again. My concern is that she’s collecting a certain set of books that seem unrelated to each other and I’ve heard her talking with Steve about picking up so magical supplies that we don’t usually carry. The White Hart caters to practically every magical tradition out there. We stock everything. She’s up to something and I don’t know what.” Dave followed Sir Thomas and washed up before sitting opposite the Knight Templar, shedding a few stickers from his t-shirt. “The pink hurricane was a response to Umbran’s compliments on the rockery.”

“I heard him say that there was a nice rockery,” Sir Thomas said. “I saw it on the way out and it’s pretty good. I like a bit of gardening and to get that sort of growth and have the rocks weathered like that takes skill and time. It looks like someone has devoted themselves to that feature for years and it’s worth it.”

“Lady Freydis is scarily powerful,” Dave said. “You don’t get to be the prince of a domain being good with stickers.” He added a liberal amount of ketchup. “You want to know about dark horrors and sinister beings? That rockery wasn’t there this morning.”

Prayer Book

“You should have gone in with Noah,” Kadogan said. “It’s not like you can’t go into a church.”

“I have often attended religious services,” Lady Freydis said. She leant against the churchyard wall and fixed her eyes on the church door.

“It is an extremely pleasant day,” Kadogan said. “You could walk among the graves and perhaps converse with any ghosts.”

“Ghosts are self-indulgent,” Lady Freydis said, keeping well outside the churchyard wall.

“So are you,” Kadogan brushed a dandelion seed off his shirt sleeve.

“So obviously I don’t want to talk to them,” Lady Freydis said. “Are you going to relocate the White Hart?”

“No,” Kadogan said. “Why did you send in Noah alone?”

“Because Mina is inexperienced and naïve and ministers are not always saints,” Lady Freydis said. “Are you going to close the White Hart?”

“No,” Kadogan said. “Some ministers are saints. Any woman would be safe with Darren.”

“Darren is not a saint,” Lady Freydis said. “And he is moving away. And you are talking about moving the White Hart away.”

Kadogan looked at her suspiciously. “What are you asking Noah to do?”

“I need a book,” Lady Freydis said. “And it is owned by that church.”

“Steve suggests opening a second shop away from York,” Kadogan said. “Because it’s hard to find space in York and once the candles are being made, with possible soap, there will be an even greater demand for space.”

“But I couldn’t make coffee away from York,” Lady Freydis said.

Kadogan looked at her with as much compassion as any elfen could manage. “The White Hart in York could never manage without you.” He brushed a stray blossom from her shoulder. “You would be here and the keeper of the coffee machine that you train will be there.” He watched as Lady Freydis relaxed an infinitesimal amount. “Why do you want the book and why can’t you get it.”

Lady Freydis couldn’t meet his eyes. “I feel uncomfortable for wanting the book,” she admitted. “It has writing in that is less than… Darren would not approve of the writing. I couldn’t make myself approach.”

“Darren approves of little,” Kadogan observed. “Here is Noah.” He watched as Noah chatted easily to the vicar before wandering over to them.

Noah knocked dust off his shirt and grinned. “That is a cute church. I’ve never seen anything so…” He looked back at the stone chapel. “I’m sure that there’s been problems, but it looks like a church where they really do religion – like faith, you know, not just words.”

Kadogan glanced over at Lady Freydis. “The diocese has always been encouraged to place good ministers here. Did you get the book?”

Noah knocked some more dust from his jeans. “It took a while to find. They don’t use this prayer book anymore so I had to dig through the old cupboards. In the end there were some packing cases under the dais in the church hall and I found this in the third one.” He handed over the nondescript book. “The vicar doesn’t mind if I go back and have another look if it isn’t the right one,” he added. “And I’m tempted to make him a deal. There’s a market for old prayer books.”

Kadogan looked interested. “Perhaps we should speak to Steve. He is the master of trading.”

“And Mina is knowledgeable about books,” Lady Freydis said. “Did you pay a fair price for the book?”

Noah nodded. “The vicar didn’t want to take money off me, so I bunged twenty quid into the donation box. I’ll check online when we get back to get a sense of the value and I can always send more.” He watched as Lady Freydis frantically flicked through the small book. “Some of the older ones would be in demand for the Instagram market. Some could be cut up for crafts. The market for that is growing as well.”

Lady Freydis pulled a face as she leafed through. “That sounds far too disrespectful,” she said, then sighed with relief. “This is the correct book.”

Kadogan leaned over her shoulder to read the strange writing. “So that’s what you’re up to,” he said. “It’s a risky endeavour. Darren would not approve at all. And the thought of it meant that you couldn’t approach a church.” He raised an eyebrow. “That should tell you something.”

Lady Freydis waved a dismissive hand. “It’s just a mental block. And I won’t be dissuaded.”

Gift

Image from Unsplash, taken by Thom Holmes

“What are you doing here?”

Noah jumped and then turned around with a sigh of relief. “Umbran! I’m so glad to see you. I thought I got the right door to go to the corner of the library that deals with beverages but I think that I took a wrong turn.”

Umbran nodded. “At least I can’t miss you.” He patted the bright yellow jacket. “And you stayed on the path.

Noah looked around the winter road and shivered. “I was warned, but I didn’t expect it.”

“You are in dangerous parts,” Umbran said. “Perhaps it would be a good idea to have someone take you to and from the library.”

Noah looked around and nodded. “Yes, I think that it would.” He pulled the coat closer around him. “So, which way is out?”

Umbran checked up and down the road. “This isn’t strictly part of Lady Freydis’ domain. Some parts are more… mutable than others. I’ll tell her about it so that she can sort it out.” He sniffed the air. “You can’t just follow the road. Instead, you have to push through the weak spots. You can’t get out unless you have some skill and inclination. Think of it as a trap or even a creature that preys on unwary travellers.”

“Excuse me!” a voice called out.

Noah and Umbran turned towards the woods as a figure stumbled out onto the road. “Hello?” Noah said cautiously.

“Hello there.” A tall, broad shouldered man strode across the road and held out a hand. “I’m Lord Devlin Farnley, from just south of Leeds, in Yorkshire. I’m deuced glad to see you. I’m afraid I’m a little lost.”

Umbran introduced them. “How did you find yourself here? And where are you going?”

Lord Devlin hesitated. “After these last few weeks, I’m not sure if I should trust you, but I suppose that I haven’t much to lose.” He looked up and down the dark road. “I got a gift that brought me to Fairyland. I won’t say I wasn’t happy to get it, and it’s been a wondrous adventure, but I really should be getting back.”

“A gift?” Noah asked.

Lord Devlin grinned. “Well, that’s what he called it. A man calling himself Lord Cerdig showed me a way in to these strange lands. We’d travelled back from London together after celebrating the coronation.” He looked around again. “I don’t suppose we can start on the way out? If you’re willing to be so kind?”

“Of course,” Umbran said. “Follow me.” He led the men along the road a little before it twisted and dawn light started streaming through the branches. “So you’d been to the coronation?”

“Damn, that’s better,” Lord Devlin said. “Dawn always looks good in these strange lands. Yes, I’d been to see the coronation and catch up with a few old friends from my army days. I’ll miss Sailor Billy, I won’t deny it.”

“Sailor Billy?” Noah asked, taking a deep breath of what was now spring air.

Lord Devlin grinned. “Good King William IV. And he was a better king than many. I don’t know how long that slip of a girl will last on the throne, and Victoria’s no name for a queen. It should be Elizabeth or Mary or something. Anyway, we’d been gaming most of the journey back from London and he’d had a run of rotten luck. I’d just about cleaned him out.” He stretched as the sun started to warm them on the walk along the brightening road. “I think I must have taken over a hundred guineas from him. But he was sporting enough and said he’d give me a gift to show that there were no hard feelings.”

“What sort of gift?” Umbran asked quietly.

“He said he’d show me the way into Fairyland. And I was all for it, you know. But I was only planning on staying a few days. It must be over a month now and I’ve had some rare adventures. But it’s time for me to go home. My family will wonder where I am.”

 “You have been here some time.” Umbran put a steady hand on Lord Devlin’s shoulder. “Time runs in strange ways in Fairyland. You’ve been here for over a hundred years.”

Lord Devlin froze for a moment. “I suppose he was a devil of a sore loser,” he said. “It’s been an adventure and I’m glad I’ve had it, but…” He swallowed and turned around to look at the sunny meadows either side as they approached a dark oak door. “It’s funny, you know. The word gift in German means poison.”

Paid Up

Lord Cerdig paused at the entrance to the chintz covered, plant filled room. “You’re making yourself very comfortable in my domain, Madame Cecile.”

The vampire shrugged. “It’s remarkably cosy,” she said. “And it’s not like you need the space.”

Lord Cerdig stared in frustration. Madame Cecile dressed to stereotype. The long, flowing, blood-red gown clung to her slim figure and the black lace band around her neck drew attention to her pale skin and the generous view of her cleavage. He narrowed his eyes. “Why don’t you dress to match the room?”

Madame Cecile shrugged. “Do you have the last payment?”

“Why don’t you check your bank account?” Lord Cerdig said. He watched as she picked up her phone and opened the flower-patterned case. How had he come to this? This was the final payment. He’d paid off his debts and covered the cost of buying Umbran’s loyalty. Now the slate was finally clean.

“It’s all here,” Madame Cecile said, tucking her phone away in her handbag. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to ask you to leave,” Lord Cerdig said. “We all know how vampires and the faerie realm mix. Everyone knows what happened in York.”

Madame Cecile’s eyes were cold. “Lord Ragnar destroyed the vampires over there. It was his mismanagement that caused the problem. Lady Freydis herself is now married to a powerful vampire that far outranks me. Your problem was money.” She smiled thinly. “It still is.”

“I’m still the prince of this domain,” Lord Cerdig snapped.

“And still without a wife,” Madame Cecile pointed out. “And your court exists because it’s a buffer between a lot of powerful lords.” She waved her had at the beautiful surroundings. “Your grasp of the normal world is weak yet your control over your domain has an exquisitely fine touch. You never needed Lady Freydis.”

“She understands the normal world like no-one else,” Lord Cerdig said. For a moment he looked thoughtful. “Keep this corner but know that I’ll always watch it. And now that I’m clear, I’m going to make this domain a thing of wonder.” His eyes snapped back at Madame Cecile. “Mark my words.” And without hesitation, he strode forward, straight through the middle of the sofa and window as if they were nothing but mist.

Madame Cecile cautiously walked over to the sofa and patted the centre. It was reassuringly, unnervingly solid. She looked around. She had enjoyed living here, away from the true sunlight, but perhaps it was time for a change. It looked like there were turbulent times ahead.

The Curse

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Dave exchanged a glance with Umbran. “So you’re not familiar with the normal world?”

Umbran shrugged. “I’ve had access to books, magazines and even the internet.” He paused for a moment as they waited at the corner of Micklegate. “I may be adjusting to the traffic, but I’m not completely unaware.”

“Babies are something new to you as well, aren’t they?” Dave said. “You freaked out when you were stacking the books in the White Hart yesterday and the baby group came in.” He frowned. “Did you spend much time with others in Lord Cerdig’s court?”

Umbran stared at the juggernaut grumbling on the road and slowly shook his head. “I stayed close to my apartments. What is that?”

Dave glanced over. “It’s just a bus. Come on.”

“I’m honoured to be a representative of Lady Freydis,” Umbran said, smoothing a hand over his jacket. He was wearing a glamour of a tall, slim man, aged around thirty with soft brown hair and unremarkable blue eyes. Even the plain leather jacket over the t-shirt and jeans couldn’t make him look threatening. “Dealing with those who threaten the order of her court is a privilege and no doubt entrusted to the bravest.”

Dave thought about the last few years. “Some threats are bigger than others,” he said. “Strictly speaking, I’m the one dealing with the problem. You’re supposed to be here for technical support.” Dave glanced across at Umbran before striding across the road. “Lady Freydis seems to think that you have a lot of power.”

Umbran avoided Dave’s eyes as he awkwardly skirted a knot of tourists. “I have more power, in an absolute form, than Lady Freydis. She, however, has more authority and is better at making people do what she wants them to do.”

Dave thought about it. “Yes, she has skills in that.” He nodded down a small side street. “This way.”

Umbran followed Dave through a maze of tiny alleys. “What exactly is the threat? Lady Freydis only told me to aid and protect you on this mission.”

“Someone’s selling curses,” Dave said. “They’re selling them to normals to use on other normals, That makes it my problem, but Lady Freydis isn’t pleased that curses are being sold in her domain.” Dave thought for a moment. “And I don’t think that they’re paying their tithe to her either.”

Umbran stopped in his tracks. “Selling curses? Who the hell does that? It’s dangerous stuff! You can’t just let dark magic out on the streets, especially to normals!”

“And they’re probably not paying their tithe to Lady Freydis either,” Dave said. “We’re here.”

Umbran glanced at the nondescript door. “Here? It looks like nothing.”

“Yeah,” Dave said as he squinted around the doorway. “Can you see any inconvenient magic out here?”

Umbran squinted. “Just a moment.” His head tilted as he examined the plain door. “Do you wish me to remove any enchantments?”

“I suppose you had better get rid of them,” Dave grumbled. “I can’t believe I just realised that the big reason I’m here is because someone’s shorting Lady Freydis.”

Umbran gazed at the dusty entrance and nodded. “One moment, if you please.”

Dave raised an eyebrow at the formality and then watched as the grimy, dusty doorway disappeared and was replaced by a neatly painted, freshly cleaned door with a flourishing hanging basket swaying over it. “I didn’t expect that.” He stepped forward and rang the pristine bell.

“Good afternoon,” the woman said, then winced as she recognised Dave. “No-one’s been hurt.”

“Good to hear that, Cyan,” Dave said, pushing past her and into the hall. “But that should be a given.” He looked at the elfen in front of him. “And can you change that glamour. It’s giving me the creeps.”

Cyan flicked the long, black hair over her shoulder and brushed down the long, clinging black dress. “I’m comfortable with my appearance,” she said. “And you have no right to just barge in here.” She caught sight of Umbran. “Hello, handsome.” Umbran blushed.

Dave shook his head. “Are you going to invite us in?”

Cyan gestured with her long, slender hand. “This way. You can come into my parlour.”

Dave wrinkled his nose as he looked around the room. “I could give you some decorating tips, you know.”

Umbran looked at the deep red walls, the draped black lace and the skull on the black stand in the centre of the room. “Is that skull smoking a cigarette?”

Dave sighed. “It’s incense.” He turned to Cyan. “You performed a curse, for money, on a garden in Fulford at the request of the neighbour of that garden. Or did you?”

“You cast a curse for money!” Umbran grabbed hold of Cyan’s shoulder. “What were you thinking?”

“Get off me!” Cyan yelled. There was an unpleasant spark and she flew across the room, landing hard against the wall.

“Don’t throw magic at me,” Umbran snapped. “You sold a curse!

“Hang on,” Dave said, raising a cautious hand. He leaned over to help Cyan up. “It’s never that clear cut.”

“What are you?” Cyan said, backing away from Umbran.

“Cyan, what did you do?” Dave asked.

Cyan hunched down and wrapped her arms around herself. “I cast a blessing on the client’s garden and a tiny glamour on the neighbour garden, so that the client’s garden always looks best,” she muttered.

“And how much did you charge?” Dave asked.

“It wasn’t that much!” Cyan cried, then caught Umbran’s eye. “I charged £500, and they were very happy.”

“And did you give Lady Freydis her cut?” Dave asked. He sighed as Cyan shook her head. “Have you got the money to give Lady Freydis her cut?”

Cyan shrugged. “Of course. I don’t really spend much these days.”

“So it wasn’t a curse?” Umbran asked. “Why would you lie?”

“Because people are more willing to curse others than improve themselves,” Cyan said. “I mean, not always, but I’ve always made more from curses than blessings.”

Dave caught Umbran’s confusion. “It’s just how people are,” he said, patting Umbran’s arm. “Listen, why don’t you try a different type of work. There’s a big demand for counselling. You can put a New Age slant on it if it makes you feel better.”

Cyan shook her head. “There’s too much competition. Besides, this is what I know.”

“You need to find something,” Dave said. “Apart from anything else, it’s false advertising. Why don’t you pay up to Lady Freydis and have a think about your next steps.”

Umbran looked around the parlour. It was immaculately staged. Velvet couches framed the black painted fireplace. Delicate dried flowers filled dark glass vases in strategic corners and the dark bronze lamps gleamed under their crimson shades. “Have you thought about going into interior decorating?”

Patience

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“Miss Marianne was at the shop all day,” Lady Freydis grumbled. “And Martin spoke to her twice.”

Noah winced. “I don’t think Martin is interested in Miss Marianne,” he said. “I mean, Kadogan chased her around the candle workshop with a pouring jug and then she threw a table at him. I’m pretty sure that she’s forgotten about Martin.”

“And then she spent half an hour telling Sir Thomas how attractive he was.” Lady Freydis glanced around her. Printed versions of the social media posts were scattered around Noah’s office. “She suggested that he carried her bag home for her as she was so delicate.”

“That was only to torture Sir Thomas,” Noah said. “And he was hardly going to think she was frail after she threw that table. He was down there and the table missed him by a whisker.” He grinned at Lady Freydis. “Then Kadogan was threatening him with dreadful punishments until Mrs Tuesday had a word.”

“You are progressing with the books,” Lady Freydis said. “And sales are up from the line thing.”

“You mean, online sales are up,” Noah said. “It’s an easy place to sell.”

“But I still lack one book for my purposes, and I believe that Lord Cerdig may own it.” Lady Freydis picked up a print of a post in a startling shade of pink. “What does Lord Cerdig want?”

“He needs money and he wants a wife,” Umbran said, stepping unexpectedly into the room.

“I didn’t realise that you were there,” Lady Freydis said. “Well, I’m married, so he can’t have me. Though I imagine that he requires a wife.” She glanced at Noah. “Fairy domains are better if they are ruled by a couple that are male and female. It’s an old tradition although I believe that Brighton is successfully ruled by two lords.” She looked around Noah’s office. “All these things confuse me,” she said, waving an imperious hand at the walls cluttered with mood boards and the cameras and lighting equipment stacked in the corners. “Follow me.”

Noah looked at Umbran and followed Lady Freydis through the door, stumbling as he realised that he was in a spring glade instead of the clean corridor outside his office. “I’m never going to get used to this.”

“That was deftly done, Lady Freydis,” Umbran said with a hint of awe.

Lady Freydis threw a smug glance at him then walked to the centre of the grove. “I’ve been searching diligently,” she said. “My magic is adequate for the basic searches.”

Noah frowned. “Is that a crystal ball?” he asked.

“It’s a form of scrying glass,” Lady Freydis said. “But it needs a great deal of patience. But the last piece of what I need is within my grasp. All I need to do is take it from Lord Cerdig.”

“What exactly are you planning?” Umbran said. “It sounds… tricky.”

“We could try going through Ferdi,” Noah suggested. “That worked before.”

“Even Lord Cerdig won’t believe that Noah is a double agent after getting reports from Umbran,” Lady Freydis said.

“Just pay him money,” Umbran said. “Add in a container of something pink, threaten him with injury if he hints at coming near you and demand the book.” He looked between Lady Freydis and Noah. “Lord Cerdig has finally paid off his gambling debts, but he’s still short of money.”

“And that’s why I was so attractive to him,” Lady Freydis said. “I have profited greatly from the success of the White Hart. He wanted my money.”

“I believe that he found you attractive,” Umbran added tactfully. “And he feels the need for a wife. His court is lacking.”

Lady Freydis frowned. “I did not realise that he was indebted.”

“Lord Cerdig has worked hard to better himself,” Umbran said. He grimaced. “Though there are a few areas of his personality that still need work. I can act as an intermediary.”

“What’s in it for you?” Lady Freydis asked.

Umbran paced around the crystal ball. “Lord Cerdig has been good to me,” he said. “I’m not sure that I’ll want to stay in York, but he got me out into sunlight – real sunlight. I hadn’t realised how much I missed it.”

Lady Freydis looked at him thoughtfully. “I am running out of patience with this quest. Please contact him and ask his price for his copy of the 1896 Welsh Language New Testament, the one stamped Four Pence on the cover. I’ll add in a large box of edible glitter, pink sprinkles and half a dozen of the latest candles from our workshop.” She frowned. “And I may be able to make an introduction.”

The Game

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Noah inched a little closer to Martin. “Why are we in this pit?” he asked.

Martin sighed. “That’s a reasonable question. Unfortunately we are not dealing with reasonable people.” He caught Noah’s anxious glance over at Lady Freydis. “It’s okay. Layd Freydis would be appalled and offended to be described as reasonable.” He shook his head. “This is apparently neutral ground as far as the fairy domain goes and Lord Richard has configured it to look like a gambling hell.” He caught Noah’s confusing. “They used to call them gambling hells, the clubs where gentlemen came to gamble, back when men wore powdered wigs, long before casinos. Gossip says that Lord Cerdig lost a fortune then and has been scrabbling to recoup it since.”

“So why isn’t he playing?” Noah asked.

“Gambling is like strong drink,” Martin said. “It can take over a being. He’s not going to risk slipping back there. Instead he set up this game between Lord Devlin and Sir Thomas. I suspect that neither of them has spent much time playing poker.”

Noah looked around. The room was dimly lit and smoky. The brightest light hovered above the players who were expressionless as they checked their cards. Brownies circulated with trays of wine and finger food, winding through the gathered courts of Lord Cerdig and Lady Freydis. In a dim corner, Noah could make out Dave was talking urgently to Steve who was looking concerned. Mia was whispering with Cyan and Kadogan and Miss Marianne were in earnest, whispered conversation conversation with two of the deadly strangers that had followed Lord Cerdig into the room. Sir Thomas laid down his hand and impassively gathered up the chips in the centre of the table. “What’s going on?”

“Damned if I know,” Martin said. “I think that it’s mostly elfen being elfen. I love my wife dearly but this seems to be one of those moments when you have to ride the currents because you have no hope of steering.” He caught up a glass of deep red wine from the tray of a passing brownie. “I don’t think that the game is actually anything to do with it. They’re playing for chicken stakes. Each chip is worth a penny.”

Noah looked around. “It’s like Casino Royale,” he said. “They should be playing for millions.”

Martin took a long drink of wine. “I think that the game is meant to distract us. The court watches the game while Lady Freydis and Lord Cerdig sort out some negotiation.” He frowned. “Lord Cerdig has been angling to marry Lady Freydis for a while, but that’s not going to happen.”

Noah felt the brief flicker of darkness that Martin allowed to show on the surface before regaining control and fought back a shudder. “Lady Freydis is devoted to you,” he said. “But perhaps it’s business. You know, like the White Hart. You said that Lord Cerdig was broke.”

Martin looked at Noah thoughtfully. “You may be onto something there. Steve Adderson has been looking to expand recently but he hasn’t found any suitable sites. The last few attempts have been duds.”

“Lady Freydis doesn’t own the White Hart,” Noah said. “She works there, and she interferes there, but she’s not an owner.”

Martin looked at the two princes in the corner, then at the players, and then back at Noah. “You may have a very unnerving point.”

The Key

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Mia forced herself past the library doors, down the stone floored corridor and into the White Hart. She was getting used to the world outside the library, but it was still a push to get out here. Once she was here and caught up in the whirlwind of the café, the shop and the candle workshop, she was fine. Just taking that step, however, could be tricky. Still, she’d made it and it was time to get ready for her shift with the candles.

The White Hart was quiet. It was early and a few tourists drifted between the knickknacks and shelves of herbs. Mrs Tuesday was polishing the counter while Lady Freydis was in deep discussion with Cyan.

“I’m just not there and I can’t work out the final touch.” Lady Freydis tapped the stack of books.

“Could you get someone to copy all the books?” Cyan asked. “Not copy the words but make those picture copies that come out on paper.” She looked around and smiled at Mia. “Can you make picture copies on paper?”

Mia looked blankly at her before the penny dropped. “You mean that you’d like me to scan the books and then print them out?” she said. “If I ask Noah, he can probably enlarge the text.”

“Of course!” Lady Freydis exclaimed. “Noah is a specialist on things. Where is he?”

“I’ll go and fetch him,” Mia said.

Lady Freydis held up an imperious finger. “You should style your hair first. How is Noah going to know that you’re attracted to him?”

Mia flushed scarlet. “What?

“I’ve got some products in my bag,” Cyan said. She caught Lady Freydis’ disbelieving glance. “I sometimes help people with styling.”

Mia took in Cyan’s dramatic black dress, outrageous heels and dramatic lipstick. “I go for a subtle look,” she said carefully.

“Don’t worry,” Cyan waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t impose a style. I merely coax out the inner beauty.”

“She really does,” Lady Freydis added. “And you want Noah to see that.”

Mia felt a shiver of unease. “Noah has just left a relationship,” she said. “And from the little that I heard, it was awful. He’s not ready to date.”

“Nonsense,” Lady Freydis said, watching Cyan rummaging through her bag. “But you must tell Noah that he needs to do the things with the books.”

“You mean, he needs to scan and print all the pages which have writing?” Mia said, backing away from Cyan.

Cyan looked at her with determination and a hairbrush in her hand. “It’s all things, like Noah’s magic.”

“It’s not magic,” Mia said. “Honestly, I’m fine how I am.”

“It’s magic,” Lady Freydis said flatly. “Things happen that are beyond understanding. I mean, can you explain how a scan works?”

Mia opened her mouth, considered her faint knowledge about printing and thought again. “It’s science and follows a logical pattern using electricity,” she said.

“I’ve heard you swearing at the printer,” Lady Freydis said smugly. “And Noah can change the till roll on the first attempt.”

“You have to admit, that’s a type of sorcery at least,” Mrs Tuesday said, coming up behind them.

“And magic is about following a series of steps and using power,” Cyan said. “It’s just different powers. Now sit down and let me style your hair.”

“Then you can look pretty when you go and ask Noah to make the words look bigger,” Lady Freydis said. “That will be the key.”

Mrs Tuesday looked at Lady Freydis with suspicion. “The key to what?” she asked.

Lady Freydis smiled sweetly. “Look at the time, the shop should be opening any moment and a coach party will be due in thirty five minutes.”

“I’ll use some magic,” Cyan said, gesturing at Mia’s hair. “There, that’s much better. Now run up and fetch Noah for his magic.”