Happy April 23rd

It was a cold, wet and miserable night, the sort that chills you to the bone and soaks you through. Fred bitterly regretted his decision to try and get ahead of his work as his battered car was wheezing up the hills and the engine temperature was nudging upwards. His phone was out of charge, he was tired and hungry and he was pretty sure that he was lost.

There was a brief glimmer of hope as he spotted a pub and he pulled up outside with a sigh of relief. The only lights light up the sign of the George and Dragon and the doors were shut up, but at least it was somewhere to stop. The rain chilled him to the bone as he banged hard on the door. Above him, a window opened and a woman stuck her head out. “We’re closed!”

“Can you make an exception, love,” he called up. “I’m happy to pay – I’m on expenses. I won’t be any bother and it’s a brutal night out here.”

“No exceptions!” The woman shouted down. “I know your sort! You’ll nick nuts from behind the bar and leave the taps running. Go away!”

“Please, missus, it’s freezing out here. My car needs a break and I’ve no charge on my phone. I promise I won’t be a bother.”

“Go away!” The woman said and slammed the window shut.

Fred stepped back for a minute, exhaustion sweeping through him. He looked up at the pub sign. St George didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold rain as he perpetually spitted the twisting dragon. He thought for a moment, then turned back to the pub and banged again on the door. The window flew open again.

“I told you, go away!” The woman yelled.

Fred shook his head. “This place is the George and Dragon, right? Well I’ve spoken to the dragon, and now I want to speak to George.”

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.”

You can find the full story from the beginning here Back at the White Hart

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.”

You can find the full story from the beginning here Back at the White Hart

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.”

You can find the full story from the beginning here 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.

You can find the full story from the beginning here Back at the White Hart

Tribute

cooked meat on wooden surface beside drink and foods in bowls
Image from Unsplash, taken by Alexander Kovacs

Cerne, god of the hunt (retired) lifted his head at the same time his great hound, Garm, pricked up his ears. After a few moments, there was a knock on the door. Cerne frowned at Garm. “I’m not expecting anyone, old boy. Who do you think it is?” He wandered down the hall and opened the door. He flinched as the middle aged woman in bright pink waved her arms wildly and screeched.

“O Great One! I, Madeline, beseech your aid!” She made a passable attempt at a curtsey.

“No, please stand, er, Madeline.” Cerne stared as Garm backed away. “Would you like to come in?”

Madeline looked terrified. “I would not presume, O Great One,” she declaimed loudly. “I merely come seeking a favour. I bring tribute.” She waved at the pile of shopping bags behind her.

“But let’s not disturb the neighbours,” Cerne said. Garm had retreated back into the living room.

“Of course,” Madeline said, in her normal voice. “I’m sorry.”

“And you can call me Mr Cornwall. I’m retired, but I help out where I can.” Cerne looked at the pile of bags. The morning was looking up.

“It’s my Mikey,” Madeline said. “He’s everything to me, O Great One, I mean, Mr Cornwall. He gives meaning to my life. And now he has gone.”

Cerne did not feel like dealing with errant lovers. “I’m not sure that I can help much with this,” he said. “I’m good at hunting.”

“I spoke to Dawn and she said that you were so kind with the wedding and everything,” Madeline said. “And I knew that you would be good to a helpless old woman missing her only companion, my reason for living.”

Cerne had a bad feeling about this. “I’ll do what I can,” he said. “So, tell me about Mikey.”

“He’s got the sweetest nature and is so gentle.” Madeline rummaged in her handbag. “So many people say that he is a complete angel. There’s not many that have a lovely nature like him.”

“Hey, Cerne! Have any of your neighbours lost a dog?” Taranis wandered around the corner holding a small chihuahua. “I found this lad down the road looking lost and I thought I’d ask around.”

Cerne wasn’t sure whether his old friend was going to be a help or a hindrance. “Madeline, this is Taranis, retired god of thunder. You can call him Mr Thomas.” He looked hard at Taranis. “I’m in the middle of a consultation.

Madeline shrieked as she saw Taranis. “O Great One! You found him!”

“What?” Cerne said.

“What?” Taranis looked at Cerne.

“My Mikey, you’ve found him!” Madeline moved fast for a woman of her age. She hurtled down the path towards Taranis.

Taranis stared in horror at the large pink lady advancing at speed towards him. “Umm…”

“My Mikey!” Madeline grabbed at the small dog who leapt into her arms, his tail wagging furiously as he licked his owner’s face.

“That’s Mikey?” Cerne said carefully.

“My little Mikey,” Madeline sighed. “He’s such a good boy, except when he runs out when the nasty meter reader called.”

“I can see it’s your dog,” Taranis said. “I’m glad I found him for you.”

Madeline ignored him and raced back up the path to fling her arms around an appalled Cerne. “You are just as good as Dawn said. Thank you for granting my request.”

“I found the dog,” Taranis said behind her.

Madeline ignored him. She attempted another curtsey. “O Great Cerne, Mighty Hunter, Lord of the Forest, thank you for bringing back my lost dog, after hunting him down and rescuing him from his peril.”

“He was wandering around the petunias at Number 43,” Taranis said. “And I found him.”

Madeline stared worshipfully up at Cerne, tears in her eyes. “Thank you for making an old woman very happy,” she said, her voice breaking. “Accept my offering. And you can keep the bags.”

Cerne watched, stunned, as Madeline walked away, hugging the chihuahua close. Then he looked at the bags. “What happened?”

I found a lost dog and you got the tribute,” Taranis said. “What is it?”

“Give me a hand,” Cerne lifted up two of the bags. “And let’s get away from the neighbours.”

Taranis lifted the other two bags and followed his old friend inside. “I didn’t recognise her,” he said. “Is she new?”

“Probably,” Cerne set the bags down in the middle of the floor and started unpacking. “I hope so.”

Garm woofed and trotted over as Cerne and Taranis unpacked box after box. Taranis rubbed the dog’s ears. “She included dog treats for you, old boy, as well as our goodies.”

“Honey cakes!” Cerne said. “I hardly ever see these. And they’re made properly, without any of this baking powder nonsense.”

“This is decent wine,” Taranis pulled out a bottle. “It’s not any of the supermarket rubbish.”

“And venison!” Cerne pulled out some more boxes. “A joint of venison with venison sausages, venison burgers…”

“This roast pork is perfect.” Taranis looked up at Cerne. “I found the dog.”

“But she came to me with the tribute,” Cerne said. He shrugged. “We split it.”

Taranis nodded. “Sounds fair.” He thought for a moment. “We can send a quick blessing her way as well. It seems only right.”

Cerne nodded. “But let’s do that before we have the wine.” He tossed a few dog treats to Garm who snatched them out of the air and crunched them with gusto. “Then we can drink a toast to Mikey.”

This story is part of the Stormdance Quarterly Blog Hop. Why not check out the other contributers to the list?

Dragon’s Tale by S. R. Olson
Coming Out by Katharina Gerlach
Rabid Rabbits Revenge by Jemma Weir
Jory’s Gamble Juneta Key 
The Ballad of Jamie Stewart by Vanessa Wells
Moon Flower by Melanie J. Drake
Battlefield by Barbara Lund 

Trouble at the Feast

“Thank you for coming, Mr Cornwall, I mean, sir, I mean, my lord…” Dawn trailed off, twisting her hands nervously together.

Cerne, god of the hunt (retired) looked around the wreckage of the wedding reception with some concern. “It’s okay, Dawn. You can call me Mr Cornwall. I think the important thing now is to work out what happened and how to put it right.” There was a roll of thunder in the background and Garm, Cerne’s huge dog, stood closer to Cerne and looked fearfully around.

“I didn’t think this would happen,” Dawn said. “I mean, they said that they were worshippers of the natural principle. I thought that they were sort of aligned. Like that time those lovely Swedish people came for a visit with Lord Thor. So when our Amber got engaged to their Gawain, I thought it would be okay.”

Cerne patted Garm’s head. Taranis may have been retired, but when the two thunder gods had started drinking, it had taken all his persuasion to stop things before they became paperwork. “I haven’t seen them around,” he said carefully as he looked over to a middle aged woman being talked down from hysterics by what looked like a bridesmaid. “But that doesn’t really mean anything. So your daughter got married to their son?”

Dawn nodded. “I mean, my mother always said that they were a bit peculiar. Each to their own, I say, but they were a bit, well…” She searched for a kind version of her words and gave up. “She’s home made everything and the type who wants to knit her own rice, and he’s so keen on saving money that I swear he’d have second hand toilet paper.” Her hand flew to her mouth as she remembered that she was talking to a god. “I’m sorry.”

“It looks like it has been stressful for you, don’t worry about it. So, what happened?” Cerne ran a reassuring hand over his trembling dog.

“We invited Lord Taranis, of course we did. He’s always been good to us, and I didn’t think it would matter, with them being all open minded.” Dawn flinched as lightning shot overhead, followed by a rattle of thunder. “And it got a bit silly on the run up to the wedding, with them wanting to save money and Mike wanting to give Amber a proper send off.” Dawn looked over to where her husband was looking sadly at the wreckage of a marquee. Shredded pink ribbon blew around the garden in the rising breeze. “We had some terrible arguments with them. Mike said that he was happy to pay, and it was only once if it was done right, and they shouldn’t worry. But Gawain’s parents couldn’t bear to see us spending money. They took the ribbon back to the shop three times before I hid it properly.”

“They didn’t like pink?” Cerne asked, bewildered. Beside him Garm whimpered as lightning flashed again. “So, Lord Taranis is in there, is he?” Cerne nodded at a separate, smaller catering tent. “If that is where the strong drink is, it’s going to be a problem.” He looked up at another rumble of thunder. “And it’s going to start raining hard any minute. You need to get stuff inside.”

“No, they didn’t mind pink,” Dawn said, looking over to a middle aged man in a bad suit standing alone outside the garden next to a row of cars and avoiding everyone’s glances. “It’s just that they thought it would be better to cut up a sheet and dye it pink. Shirley said she could do it with avocadoes. They don’t even eat avocadoes!”

Cerne wasn’t sure what an avocado was. “Dawn, I really think that you need to tell me what upset Lord Taranis and you need to tell me now!”

Dawn wrung her hands as women started frantically carrying plates and platters into the house. “We set up the wedding food as a proper dinner. We ordered plenty of beef and some salmon and a special side of roast pork for Lord Taranis. He’s always particular, and we always get him the good roast pork. Our family have always done our best.”

Cerne nodded. “Lord Taranis insists on the good meat for a feast. He may have even given you some if you couldn’t manage it, to make your daughter’s wedding special.” He tried a reassuring smile on the woman in front of him. “And he has always praised your cooking.”

Dawn’s eyes brimmed with tears. “We always got him the best stuff. We ordered a barrel of mead as well, and Mike had racked up extra home brewed beer and wine, and everything.” There was a crash from the catering tent, and lightning hissed down and split the tarmac on the road outside.

“If you have Lord Taranis hiding with Mike’s home brew, you need to tell me what happened quickly,” Cerne said. “You know what he gets like.”

“Gawain’s parents called the caterer and changed the order,” Dawn whispered as smoke from the burnt road drifted across the garden. “They said that we needed a more cost effective menu.” The first fat droplets of rain splashed on the broken tables piled up on the side of the lawn.

Cerne felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as Garm pressed his huge body against the god’s legs. “They didn’t give him fish, did they?”

A bellow came from catering tent and the sound of smashing glass. Dawn started sobbing. “They gave him the vegan option.”

Quiet Remembrance

Taranis, god of thunder (retired), opened up his camping chair and pulled out his thermos flask. “It’s a cold night, but not a bad time to remember someone. And it’s quiet.”

Cerne, god of the hunt (retired), dumped his bag next to the cairn of stones. “Have you really brought tea to a memorial feast?” His great hound, Garm, sniffed at the stones and then flopped down next to them.

“It’s good to drop some of this into a hot drink,” Taranis pulled out a black, unlabelled bottle that glowed faintly in the night air.

Cerne brightened up. “That’s more like it.” His breath steamed in front of him and he rubbed his hands briskly together. “I’ll get a fire going.” He looked over to the stones. “Seems only right to remember an old friend with flames and strong drink.”

Taranis busied himself setting up a second camp chair and a small table. He caught Cerne’s eye. “The damp gets right in my bones,” he grumbled. “There’s no need to be uncomfortable.”

Cerne shrugged. “I hadn’t thought of Bran in years.” He pulled out his own contribution. “I brought venison.” He set some large Tupperware tubs on the table. Garm’s eyes followed every movement.

“I suppose you bought it from a butcher, didn’t you,” Taranis grumbled.

The former god of the hunt added some soft white bread in a box. “I’ve been busy.” He paused and looked at the cairn. “Time just slips by these days.”

“It wasn’t until I saw all the fuss in the paper that I remembered,” Taranis said. He set out two large tin mugs and a few more unlabelled bottles. “But I couldn’t let them build over the last resting place of our old friend.”

Cerne built a small fire, carefully arranging the logs and twigs for a long night of burning. He stacked up more firewood and cleared the space as Taranis set out the food and drink. Cerne nodded at the unlit wood. Taranis shrugged and a spark jumped from his fingers to light the campfire. “That’s better. I’ve got some mead and barley cakes to leave for Bran, before we start.”

Cerne nodded. “I suppose so.”

“Hey, grandad!”

They turned around and stared at the newcomers. A red-faced middle-aged man with a battery spotlight was in front of half a dozen lads who were holding shovels and crowbars. He strode forward angrily. “This is prime development land. I had everything set up ready for some residential and a shopping centre and then you bleeding hearts turned up. I’ve paid out good money for the land, but now that it’s a ‘special archaeological site’ it’s worthless.” He looked at the lads behind him. “But with one of those unexplained incidents, and with no way of being able to find the culprits, all the archaeology is going to disappear. There’ll be nothing left for any special interest and before you know it there will be executive townhouses and some convenient shop fronts. So why don’t you coffin dodgers pack up your little picnic and bugger off before things start getting messy.”

“You’re Mr Harris the developer, aren’t you?,” Taranis said. “We’re not leaving. We’re here to pay our quiet respects to an old friend. Just leave us in peace.” There was a brief rumble of thunder. He looked over the lads behind the developer. “I know you, Darren, and you know me. You ought to know better. Now get off back home, and I won’t say anything more about it.” The young lad lost every trace of colour, dropped the shovel he was holding, turned and fled. Taranis looked over the rest of the motley bunch. “Go away.”

“You don’t want to end up with paperwork,” Cerne said to Taranis. He turned to Mr Harris. “I’m sure that there’s ways of working around this. Why don’t we talk this out tomorrow?”

“There are plenty of ways, but they all cost money,” Mr Harris shouted. “I’m not wasting any of that on some dried up bones. So I’m saying – bugger off! I don’t care how old you are, you’ll regret it if you don’t move.”

Cerne sighed and looked at the bunch in front of them before catching Taranis’ eye. “There’s only half a dozen of them. Don’t go too hard on the youngsters. I’ll set up the memorial for Bran.”

Taranis growled. Thunder rolled and a flash of lightning arced across the sky. “Get out of here,” he snarled at the men in front of him.

Garm crawled under the picnic table. He was a big dog under a small table, but he did his best. Cerne patted his head. “Don’t worry, boy. Taranis will sort it out.” He pulled out a small box. “Just stay there, that’s a good boy.”

Garm’s tail thumped on the side of the table as he watched Cerne take out some candles and arranged them on the cairn. A crowbar sailed overhead. Cerne carefully wedged the candles and glanced over to Taranis. “Remember – no paperwork!”

“Coming here to disturb our peace,” Taranis growled as he grabbed a shovel and snapped it in half, throwing the pieces to the side.

Cerne ducked as a part of the handle flew past him. “Watch out,” he said mildly as he lit the candles. He looked thoughtfully down at the stones, ignoring the screams. “Bran would have sorted them out in no time. He insisted on respect.” He picked up the small box of barley cakes. “It’s hard to get proper barley cakes these days. But Mrs Atkins down the road is always happy to help out.” He glanced over and frowned as Taranis threw a young lad across the clearing. “Take it steady, Taranis. These lads aren’t like the old days. They break a bit easier.”

“Damn them,” Taranis roared as a brave lad tried to grapple him from behind.

Cerne sighed and shook his head as he broke the cakes over the mound. “I think Mrs Atkins is a little sweet on me,” he confided to Garm. “And she is a good cook. I could do worse than visit her more often.” He grimaced at another crash and looked back at the fight. Taranis had slowed his punch down enough to let the youngster in front of him dodge and the punch broke the tree behind the lad. The branches of the sycamore bounced gently as they fell. “You’re going to be in trouble if their mums complain,” he said. “And if Gaia finds out about that tree, you’ll be sorry.” He turned back to the cairn and opened up the mead. “I’ll pour the mead out for Bran now, should I?”

“Hang on,” Taranis grunted as he shook off the lad and grabbed him by the front of his t-shirt. “Go away and don’t come back, dog breath!” He dropped the offender who crashed, struggled to his feet and ran, leaving the developer all alone. Taranis turned back to Mr Harris who turned to flee. “Not so fast!” Lightning flashed to the ground in front of the man, singeing the earth and leaving Garm whimpering. “I want words with you.” He grabbed Mr Harris by the scruff of his jacket.

“Remember the paperwork,” Cerne said. “You know you’d get in trouble if you skewer him.” Mr Harris moaned.

“If you had made a decent fire we could have roasted him,” Taranis said, his quick wink at Cerne unnoticed by the terrified man in front of him. “And Gaia will take hardcore offerings for trees at a pinch.”

“She’s gone vegan,” Cerne said. “Let Harris go. We’re here for Bran.”

“Bran would have skinned him,” Taranis grumbled. “And thrown the skin to the dogs in front of him.”

Garm tried to retreat further under the small table as Cerne hid a grin. “Bran had his bad points as well.” Cerne stood and strolled over to Taranis’ captive. “Why don’t you go home. We can talk about this tomorrow, nice and modern and without any paperwork.”

Taranis dropped him. “Don’t try and run. We’ll find you no matter where you go.”

“I’m sorry,” Mr Harris squeaked.

“I’m sure that we can set the misunderstanding straight.” Cerne said. “But tomorrow. Because we want a nice quiet evening to remember our friend, okay?”

They watched as Mr Harris nodded, stumbled backwards, turned and staggered back to his car. Taranis sighed. “He wasn’t much of a fight.” He brightened a little. “But we have the venison, and some of my special home brew.”

“And some time for a quiet remembrance,” added Cerne.

Dominoes

“My mum says that you’re the god of thunder.”

Taranis looked up from his game of dominoes at the skinny lad staring at him. Across the table, Cerne, god of the hunt, grinned. Taranis ignored the grin. “I was, lad, I was. I’m retired now, though, and don’t really get involved. You must be Dawn’s youngest.”

“She sends a pork joint to regular, but I think you’re a con artist and a fake,” the lad continued. “And I think you should stop taking advantage.”

Cerne placed his domino down. “Your move.”

Taranis looked at the lad. “It’s Owen, isn’t it? You drive that weird yellow Corsa and your mum told me that you were working with a plumber.”

“You see, that’s it!” Owen said. “Mum gets stuff like that wrong all the time. I’m apprenticed. It’s all legal and properly set out. Mr Barker looks after me and I try and do him proud. I work hard for my money, and so does my mum, and I don’t see why elderly scammers like you should have any of it.” He glared at Taranis. “And it isn’t a weird yellow. It’s a custom wrap. That car is better than anything you’ve ever had or ever will have!”

Taranis grunted, laid down his domino and took a drink from his pint. There weren’t many people in the old-fashioned pub, and they were all carefully ignoring the lad and his demands. “Are you sure that I’m a scammer. I got rid of that problem Josie had.”

“I think it would have gone on its own,” Owen said angrily. He turned to the distant rumble of thunder outside the door. “And don’t try and fake that was you. I saw the weather forecast. Just leave us alone.” Owen turned on his heel and stalked over to his friends waiting at the bar.

Cerne looked thoughtfully down at the dominoes, ignoring the sharp crack of thunder outside. “Of course, a lightning strike on the electrics would just be coincidence,” he remarked. “But it’s obvious that the car is his pride and joy. I’m going to have to knock.”

Taranis nodded as he perused the dominoes. “There’s one thing about lightning that everyone forgets,” he said. “It’s hot.” He lay down a double six.

Cerne narrowed his eyes. “I’m going to have to pass again. So, lightning’s hot. I thought it just started fires.”

“I’ve got a good view of the car park from here,” Taranis nodded at the angled mirror behind the bar that, to the right seat, showed the half dozen cars spaced out in front of the pub. “And I’ve still got decent aim.” He put down another domino with a smug grin.

Cerne pursed his lips and then managed to lay down a tile before standing and peering out of the window. “There’s a lot of smoke out there.”

Taranis nodded thoughtfully as he lay down his last piece. “I’m out. And it’s hard to explain all four tyres spot welded to the tarmac as coincidence, especially with nothing else touched.” Taranis drained his beer glass. “That’s three games all and it’s your round.”

Cerne watched the shocked murmur run through the few patrons before they all rushed out to see for themselves. “I bet you get an extra offering next time,” he grinned. “Same again?”

Taranis nodded contentedly as he watched the confusion outside. “Yep, same again.”

£2.34

You can find Kane’s story from the start here.

“I can feel her here,” Joan said. “It’s like she’s breathing down my neck.”

Kane was blessed, if you could call it that, with the ability to see ghosts. As he sat sipping tea in Joan’s knickknack crammed living room, he could clearly see the ghost of Nancy leaning in close to Joan. “She’s there,” he said. “A lady about the same age as you. She’s wearing a blue hat.”

“She always wore blue,” Joan sniffed. “She said it suited everyone. Mind you, it was a close call a few times.”

Nancy caught Kane’s eye. “Well she thought she could wear yellow and she really couldn’t.” The ghost shuddered at the memory.

“I can’t keep going on with this sense of someone peering over my shoulder,” Joan continued. “It’s worse than when she was alive. Tell her to go towards the light, or whatever it is.”

Kane winced. “I’m not very good at that bit.” He looked at Nancy. “Do you miss Joan?”

Nancy sniffed. “We were close, that’s true. But I can’t rest. She owes me £2.34. I can’t seem to get away from that. I’m owed £2.34 and until I get it, I can’t leave.”

Kane turned to Joan. “Nancy says that you owe her some money.”

“I do not!” Joan said indignantly. “I’ve always paid up. We reckoned up after every trip and meeting. We’d settle up who paid for what and where and make sure that we were all square. I could never sleep if I owed money.”

“It’s £2.34,” Nancy insisted.

Joan carried on, unaware. “I have never been in debt – not a penny under or a day late. How dare she!”

“It’s the money from the bingo,” Nancy said. “Just because I died that day didn’t mean that she could get away with keeping my share. And it’s £2.34.”

Kane turned to Joan in confusion. “She said that you owe her from the bingo.”

Joan frowned, then looked at Kane. “It was the day she died. And I was so upset, I forgot.” The colour had left her face. “We went to the Community Centre for bingo. We paid the same for our tickets, took it in turns to buy the tea at the interval and bought our own raffle tickets. The only thing was, we split whatever we won, exactly half.”

Kane tried to work it out. “To be honest, I’m more used to ghosts that can’t rest because they owe money, not the other way around. So, you won a prize of £4.68, that you would normally split. But you never had the chance.”

Joan shook her head. “It was a box of chocolates. They weren’t allowed to give cash prizes because it was for charity.”

“It wasn’t proper gambling,” Nancy added. “So it would be something like a bottle of wine or a candle.”

“They asked for donations,” Joan explained, “And the profits went to a good cause.”

“Everyone took turns,” Nancy said. “And asked that we give a rough value.”

“We all took turns,” Joan said. “Nancy and I used to go halves on a decent prize. You were supposed to give an idea of what it cost so that they could rank the prizes.” She sighed. “We always got something nice, with it being a good cause. Mrs Holloway, down the road, she only gave things like a packet of mints. Well, she couldn’t manage more with her being on a pension and all the trouble her husband is having.”

“We never blamed her,” Nancy added to an unhearing Joan. “You give what you can.”

“And I won the box of chocolates,” Joan said. “I was going to go home and check the price, so I could give the right money to Nancy. It was donated by Mrs Cadwallader, and she sometimes, well, she gets carried away.”

“Joan was always a lot more tactfully than me,” Nancy said. “That Mrs Cadwallader was all fur coat and no knickers. She’d talk about her expensive perfume like she wasn’t seen buying it from the market.”

Kane looked back at Joan. “Nancy said that Mrs Cadwallader sometimes exaggerated.”

Joan put her tea down with care. “I would be ashamed to behave like that. She put it as a £10 prize but got it as part of a sale in the big supermarket at the other side of town. It cost £4.68. And the chocolates were stale!”

“I’d be mortified,” Nancy added.

“But with what happened to Nancy as we left the Community Centre, I didn’t think to hand over any money,” Joan said.

“I got hit by a car,” Nancy told Kane. “I never felt a thing.”

“How do I pay the £2.34?” Joan asked. “I mean, Nancy’s dead.”

“Could you perhaps bury it in the grave?” Kane asked.

Joan shook her head. “She was cremated and her ashes scattered.”

“I can’t go until it’s settled,” Nancy said.

“And what is she going to do with the money if she’s dead?” Joan asked. “I don’t suppose there’s much bingo there.”

“What would you do if you hadn’t had a chance to pay her back?” Kane asked.

“Oh, I’d pay for the tea next time we were out,” Joan said. Her face fell. “I haven’t felt like going out much, now that she’s gone.”

“We went everywhere together,” Nancy said to Kane. “We were inseparable from when we met at school. We even married brothers.”

Kane nodded to Joan. “Perhaps that’s it,” he said. “Why don’t you go out and have a last cup of tea on her?”

Nancy and Joan both frowned, then shook their heads. “A cup of tea is £1.80 in the usual place,” Joan said. “That would be 54p off.”

“That’s too much,” Nancy said. “How about a nice hot chocolate? You have one for you and one for me.”

Kane turned to Joan. “Nancy suggests a hot chocolate, at £2.35 and that you have one for you and one for her and then you’ll be straight.”

“It will still be 1p out,” Joan said. “But I can put a penny into the collection at church – separately, of course.”

“Of course,” Nancy said. She started to fade. “That would be perfect, and we would be settled up.”

Kane watched the ghost disappear and then turned to Joan. “She’s gone.”

Joan held herself upright with only a slight gleam in her eye suggesting how near she was to tears. “I’ll go tomorrow and have two hot chocolates and save a penny for church,” she said firmly. “And I’ll have a word with her nephew. She kept a close eye on him, and I know that she would be grateful if I kept up the good work.”

Kane felt deep sympathy for the nephew. “I’m sure that she will.”

This is sparked by the memory of my grandmother, around fifty years ago. She went to a charity bingo every Thursday afternoon and once won a block of butter – and was very pleased with it! Whenever she went out with my mother, they used to count up every penny spent and work out who owed what with a thoroughness that would make any accountant turn to Modern Literature.