Kadogan glared at the head of the brownies. "What ever happened to being paid with a saucer of milk?" He demanded.
"It's the going rate, your lordship." Gavin Brown didn't look apologetic. "£100 per week for the shop, £100 per week for the garden, and you get a full Brownie job - no messing, no corners cut, just good service. And that's preferential rate for elfen, your lordship. I'd charge double for a standard job."
"£200 per week for something you love doing?" Kadogan paced in front of the calm Gavin. "It's outrageous. And the garden shouldn't take that much. I'll offer £150 per week and a one off payment for setting up the garden on top of the money for plants. Say... £200."
Gavin shook his head. "Sorry, your lordship, but we've cut the price to the bone, we always do for your kin. By rights I should be charging a lot more, it's pennies per hour really, and don't forget that the garden also includes maintaining the car park."
"I have looked into the newspaper." Kadogan said importantly. "And for a cleaner from the newspaper I would pay a mere £10 per hour - or even less."
Gavin shook his head sadly. "Think of the size of this place." He said. "It would take a normal at least 10 hours with the size of this place, that's just doing a normal standard job. Now you are getting a brownie standard job for a fraction of what it should cost. That's a very good deal. We charge a lot more for the solicitors in town, you know, they pay..." Gavin paused. "It would be unprofessional for me to mention what they pay and they would bite my hand off for a deal like this - and I don't cover their gardening."
Kadogan continued to pace around the calm brownie. Fiona watched. She was the token normal person in the room. She was still getting to grips with the idea that brownies existed. Apparently they looked very different without the glamour they wore habitually around the normal world. Gavin looked like a stocky, middle aged manager who had built a business where you worked with your hands by starting at the bottom and knowing the work inside out. Kadogan, an elfen who were unpredictable at the best of times, was wearing a glamour of a business man in his thirties, currently in jeans with his sleeves rolled up but definitely a slim, focused business man who was currently coming second in a negotiation.
Gavin broke the ice. "Of course, the patronage of one such as yourself is of value." He said thoughtfully. "That has to be worth perhaps another look at the pricing."
"Which solicitors exactly do you work for?" Kadogan asked suspiciously.
"Professional courtesy, I don't discuss them with you and I don't discuss you with them, but I will say that they are very highly thought of. We only deal with the better class of clients."
Fiona watched Kadogan. Emotions flitted across his face. Of course he loved the appeal to his vanity, but which way were the brownies going to stitch him up? "My patronage will of course be worth something." Kadogan said loftily. "I will of course recommend you to any who ask."
"Actually I was thinking something a bit more concrete than that." Gavin stayed calm and unmoved. "Perhaps mutually beneficial. Think about it, how many local people are likely to come here? Quite a few - I daresay it will become quite a hub."
Kadogan waved a hand at Fiona. "My associate is the business person for the normals." He said dismissively. "And while I anticipate a certain amount of local traffic from the non normals I would not go so far as to say a hub..." He waited for Gavin to contradict him.
"I think your lordship will be pleasantly surprised at the volume of traffic. After all, it is hard to get hold of some of this stuff locally, and a lot of my friends prefer to see what they are dealing with rather than order on the internet. We can go on recommendations but it isn't the same thing. You are offering a real service to the local non normal community." Gavin paused to see how much of this was getting through.
"And there will be a cafe, with an assortment of food and drink." Kadogan said airily.
"A good place to meet in neutral surroundings." Gavin nodded.
"So this deal, what do you have in mind?" Kadogan asked, pausing in front of Gavin and steepling his slender fingers in front of his face.
"We do not charge you for the plants, which is a very good deal, and in return we have a discreet sign saying that all plants are provided by Gavin Brown and Sons, Established, and available at our nursery."
Kadogan peered at him, trying to work out the catch. "So I still pay £200 per week..."
"Which in itself is an excellent deal." Gavin interjected.
"... but I don't have to pay for the plants, and you put a sign up. How much were you asking for the plants again?"
"£500 every three months, so that is a considerable saving." Gavin said respectfully. "Of course we will be taking a small loss but the advertising is worth it, given the select clientele that will be visiting the establishment."
Kadogan frowned. "You won't just palm me off with some dead daisies and some plastic leaves, will you?"
Gavin lost the calm business man facade and looked genuinely hurt. "There are two reasons why that would never happen." He said sharply. "Not only would it be pretty poor advertising but it would hurt my professional pride. We are brownies. We do a good job, proper cleaning, nice gardens, no corners cut. I am not letting anything slipshod on my patch!"
Kadogan waved an apologetic hand. "I am sorry, Brownie Gavin Brown, I wasn't thinking. So, £200 per week plus the plants with advertising. I think that will be a very satisfactory arrangement."
Fiona watched them shake hands. So that was one more thing off the list. After Kadogan had seen the brownie out she looked at him warily. "It's a really good deal with the cleaning, you know." She said. "There are lots of decorative bits that will gather dust. It will take time."
Kadogan grunted. "They'll do half of it by magic anyway." He grumbled. "And I'm not sure about the decorations in here."
Fiona sighed inwardly. Kadogan was an immortal creature, an elfen, who was almost human. He didn't quite get what shops were about. "The decorations are fine." She said patiently.
"There's a lot of pink." Kadogan continued prowling. "And I do not like the 'Fairy Corner'. People will talk."
"The normals that come in here will expect something like that." Fiona looked at the display of pastel coloured china fairies. She quite liked how sweet they looked, although now she knew that they were absolutely nothing at all like the local elfen. "We can't go too dark and sinister."
Kadogan glared at the miniature doors and flowery prints. "It's disrespectful." He grumbled. "And I am not sure about some of that lot either." He waved his hand over to a large wall full of books.
"We are going to be serving two very different types of customers." Fiona reminded him. "Some are non normals - vampires, werewolves, boggarts and those who are aware of them. They will be interested in our wide ranging display of herbs, tools and supplies." She waved her hand over at the businesslike display under the brighter lighting. "And then there will be tourists, those who think they know what is going on and those who want a good deal the mystical stuff so that they can look mystic without actually putting the effort in. And they will like the fairies."
"If you are sure." Kadogan was still smarting after the negotiations with the brownies. "And the coffee shop will help draw people in."
"I imagine that we will get a lot of overspill at peak times when tourists are looking for a place to get a reasonably priced coffee anywhere there is a seat. York is a tourist town." Fiona reminded him.
"Hmm." Kadogan peered closer at the resin models. He pointed to a particularly supercilious figure. "I think I may have once been married to that."
"Why don't you check the candles while I start unpacking the rest of the herbs?" Fiona suggested. "Two days until opening."
"I shall indeed check the candles in the back room and ensure that the number of candles is comparable to the invoice. I am sure you can manage the herbs." Kadogan stalked off.
Fiona picked up the box from the counter and started to unload the wormwood onto the display. She had long since learned that it was no good giving Kadogan mundane work, he just didn't seem to be able to do something like dusting or unpacking stock. However she found that he enjoyed counting the candles so at least he was out of her hair. And to be fair, there wasn't much more to do, she had left the herbs to the last minute so that they would be fresh for longer. She had been running on adrenaline for far too long. She paused and counted the days. She stopped for a minute and then counted again. When the shop opened it would be exactly one hundred days since she literally had run into Kadogan. She filled up the display on autopilot. How could it have only been one hundred days. Because that was just about three months, and she had been so full of fury and frustration that she had hurled herself at this whole business until all of a sudden she was here, in front of a stand of herbs, acacia buds to yarrow, about to open a shop.
Fiona could remember the day that they had met. It had been a perfect storm of a day. She had woken up to a text from her boyfriend dumping her. This had left her incandescent. Not only had he begged her six months earlier not to go with the rest of her family to Australia but to stay with him because they had something special but he had waited until the week after she had cleaned out her bank account paying for his birthday before dumping her. Then her stupid, incompetent, intermittent bully of a boss had tore a strip off her for something he had done. She had been seething all day. This was followed by the commute from hell as the train from her work in Leeds to her home in York had been delayed, delayed again and then cancelled so that the next train had been a heaving mass of frustrated workers and damp Christmas shoppers trying to get home and she had been too late to pick up her card making magazine from the newsagents as they would be shut before she even got to the station. She had been hanging on to the anticipation of that magazine all day and it was the last straw. So when she came out of York station and saw some complete idiot suddenly freeze in the middle of the road seemingly mesmerised by the Christmas lights while a huge lorry bore down on him, horn blaring some rush of adrenalin had sent her sprinting across the road and cannoning into him, knocking him out of the path of the lorry and both of them landing on the pavement on the other side.
Fiona remembered how thin he felt, like some bag of twigs, but he had looked okay, a youngish man with short hair, hazel eyes and a spaced out expression. As she tried to gather her wits his eyes had become focused on her. For a few moments she had become lost in his gaze, those mysterious, bewitching hazel eyes and the world seemed to slide away. Then a woman stepping over them had tutted and broken the spell.
"I am Kadogan," he had said as he helped her to her feet, "And you have saved my life. I must repay you. But first, let me buy you coffee."
And that had been the start of it. She had rescued an elfen. One of the creatures that the fairytales had been based on. He was stronger than he looked, faster than he looked - at least at the moment. Elfen hid their true appearance under what Kadogan called a glamour, so he was a skinny bag of bones under the tall, sophisticated glamour with the devilish smile. As he was an older elfen he was more vulnerable than many to the flashing lights that multiplied at Christmas. All elfen had a susceptibility to flashing lights or over rhythmic music. They also fed on emotions so a nightclub was a perfect predator trap, lots of drunken emotions to tempt the elfen's appetite but lots of flashing lights and rhythmic music to lull them into a catatonic trance. Apparently specially employed goblins would haunt nightclubs and pull out any elfen out that had succumbed to the stimulus. Fiona thought that explained a lot about some of the men she had met in nightclubs. It also explained why Kadogan had suddenly frozen in such a dangerous place. He had been caught by the lights.
Fiona's reverie was broken by an imperious knock on the door. As she unbolted it she recognised the silhouette through the glass and smiled as she opened up. "Lord Marius, it is good to see you." She said. "Would you like some coffee?"
Lord Marius was another elfen. Fiona wasn't exactly sure of his status. He was respected and treated with deference by Kadogan, which was unusual, but he wasn't a Prince. Nor did he seem to stay mainly in one place like the rest of the elfen. Kadogan referred to him as a Postman, but Fiona thought that there was more to it than that. Lord Marius carried letters, parcels and gossip from one end of the country to the other and he had a lot of influence. Kadogan had tried to impress Fiona with the need to keep Lord Marius happy. Fiona didn't care. She liked Lord Marius, and it was always fun to watch him and Kadogan gossiping together.
Lord Marius removed his motorcycle helmet and smiled back at Fiona. He was wearing his usual glamour of a tall, lean, dark haired man with vivid green eyes. "I would indeed enjoy a coffee - you do such wonderful coffees."
"I have a new one for you to try - French Vanilla." Fiona went into the back room and beckoned Lord Marius to follow. "I know you are an expert when it comes to coffee."
Lord Marius looked around him as he pushed a large bundle of white sage off a chair and sat down. "I like to think I can enjoy coffee. You aren't as organised in here as you are in the shop itself." He said.
Fiona nodded. "We open in two days. We need to get the front sorted out first, and then we can sort out the back as and when we have time." She flicked on the kettle and spooned a teaspoon of instant French Vanilla coffee into a large china mug for Lord Marius and added five sugars. She put an Earl Grey Teabag into another large china mug for Kadogan and added three sugars to that. Then she paused and looked at her teas. Today was definitely a Russian Caravan tea day. She put her speciality teabag into her own mug. "Kadogan is checking the candles. We stock a wide range of candles and I managed to get a very good deal on some of the pillar ones."
"And in opening this shop with you he is repaying your risk in saving his life by giving you your heart's desire." Lord Marius said. "And I suspect it may do well. Though these are difficult times. I have been talking about nothing else for weeks."
Fiona smiled. "That is kind of you." She said, pouring the water into the mugs.
"Not at all. Everyone is so curious. A normal and an elfen working together in a mercantile endeavour - that has not been seen for centuries. At least not successfully. And Laurentius of Aldgate would like a copy of your catalogue."
"What!?" Kadogan appeared, holding a yellow candle and looked unnerved. "Prince Laurentius wishes a copy of our catalogue?"
"I'll be leaving York about teatime." Lord Marius said airily. "I am going that way, down to Rochester. I could drop one in, if you like."
Kadogan looked at Fiona, panicking. "We need to one specially printed."
Fiona stared. "We can't get a special edition printed by teatime, it's not much before lunch now. What's wrong with the catalogues, anyway? They're lovely quality."
"A special cover, then. We need to get a special cover. Where can we get a special cover, Fiona Ellen Greene?"
"What sort of special cover?"
"A princely one, an elaborate one, one that is personal to him." Kadogan waved his hands vaguely.
"That sounds extremely appropriate." Lord Marius said, sipping his coffee. "This coffee is marvellous. Thank you, Fiona, for making it for me."
Fiona looked blankly between the two of them. "Lord Marius, I am glad you like the coffee. Kadogan, where do you think we can get a personalised cover in less than four hours?"
Kadogan looked even more flustered. "Fiona Ellen Greene, you have made wonderful cards, can you not make one that would be a lovely cover for a prince, something regal, something not too modern - something that flatters him!"
Fiona took a small sip of her Russian Caravan tea and savoured the full taste for a few seconds. "I'll make a cover. But I won't be able to manage to do anything more today, not if I am working on that. You'll have to unpack the last of the stock."
"Anything!" Kadogan said.
"What's his full title, his name, and his favourite colour?" Fiona put down her tea with purpose. She had a lot of her card making kit here as she had had to kill time waiting for the builders and deliveries.
"I'll write it all down." Kadogan rushed to get the notepad that Fiona kept putting back next to the phone.
Fiona started going through her card stock and pulling out her embossing tools. "This had better be worth it."
By the time Lord Marius came back to pick up the customised catalogue Fiona felt almost rigid with stress. Kadogan had been pacing around as she worked the silver Dutch metal into some elegant frames and had carefully written 'Laurentius, Princeps' on the cover. She felt a little soothed by Lord Marius' reaction.
"I imagine you will get requests from other Princes." Lord Marius said as he held the finished article delicately between his fingertips. "They are all intrigued. I trust you will be supplying stock suitable for a prince?"
"Of course," Kadogan said, a little bit too quickly.
"I look forward to delivering the bespoke catalogues." Lord Marius said smoothly, finishing his coffee as he watched Fiona neatly attach the new catalogue cover.
"What exactly are Princes?" Fiona asked, carefully positioning some double sided tape.
"They are Important and Rich." Kadogan said, also intrigued as Fiona assembled the cover.
"They are the rulers of the non normals within their domain." Lord Marius said. Some govern small domains, but have great influence. Lord Laurentius has been in Aldgate since it was Londinium, ruled throughout the skirmishes between the kings of Wessex and Mercia and the East Saxons. He is perhaps the most influential, although his domain is not wide. Now up in the sparse hills and islands of Scotland Lord Magnus Redbeard rules from Shetland across to the Great Glen and down the West coast as far as Stranraer. He came across with the Northmen and communicates little with the other princes. Did you know that the Shetland islands are nearer to Bergen than Edinburgh? It shows in Lord Magnus. Perhaps I have time for one more of those excellent coffees."
Kadogan refilled the kettle and flicked it on. "Most princes are powerful elfen." He said, counting out five sugars. "And in most domains there is a paladin for every prince." He shrugged. "There are sometimes more, in places like Chelmsford, sometimes just one, as in York."
"There is a prince in York?" Fiona asked, looking up from her folding tool.
"I will be introducing you once the shop is open." Kadogan looked at the assorted jars and packets. "Which one of these is French Vanilla?"
"You didn't tell me about a prince." Fiona said, sliding the finished catalogue into the custom made parchment envelope embossed with 'Laurentius, Princeps' across the front in silver letters. "Or about paladins. What are paladins?"
"Paladins are mortals, normals, people like yourself, whose duty it is to protect the normal population from the non normal. In an ideal world they work with the prince." Lord Marius took the coffee from Kadogan with a genuine smile. "The coffee here is delightful."
"So what about the paladin in York?" Fiona carefully lit the sealing wax.
"Sealing wax! That will go down so well. Lord Laurentius sometimes gets a bit nostalgic for the old days." Lord Marius smiled wryly. "He is always looking up historical stuff on the internet."
Fiona carefully dropped the blob of wax onto the parchment and pressed in the seal, a picture of a stag. It worked first time and she breathed a sigh of relief. "Should I have met the paladin, then?" She asked. "Since he is like me, human."
"It's bad form to say 'human'." Kadogan said and handed the envelope to Lord Marius. "It's normal and non-normal."
Fiona frowned and looked at the two elfen who were examining the seal. "This paladin of York, then. Should I have met him?"
Kadogan waved an impatient hand. "It's a bit complicated at the moment. Besides, more urgently, the candle shelf is defective."
"There is nothing wrong with the shelf." Fiona felt bewildered. "I put them together myself, they're all fine."
"The shelf is defective." Kadogan repeated.
Fiona hurriedly packed away the tools. "Is the unit failing, or slanted?"
"Just this one shelf."
"How can one shelf of a unit be defective - they are all going to be defective or none are." Fiona snapped.
Lord Marius grinned in amusement. "May I see the defective shelf?" He asked. "It sounds a curiosity."
The floor of the store room was far from even and Fiona had spent a great deal of time putting together the plain storage units and then wedging their legs with bits of cardboard so that everything was level. Kadogan indicated the nearest unit holding the candles. "It is this one." He announced. "Behold."
He took a smallish pillar candle and put it on the top shelf. It remained unmoved. He put it on the bottom shelf, and the second shelf, and nothing happened. Then he placed it on the second shelf from the top, just at eye level.
Karen watched as the pillar candle that had been so immobile on the other shelves wobbled, fell and then rolled the length of the shelf. She found it hard to swallow as her mouth dried and her stomach froze. What would be a very minor effect on tv was icily chilling in real life. She found herself backing away from the shelf and the hair felt almost as if it was standing on end.
"Kadogan, you get excitable, this is merely a haunted shelf, not defective." Lord Marius sounded irritated. "And you have questioned your normal companion's competence in constructing the shelf units."
"That's okay." Fiona said, her eyes fixed on the candle.
"You are right, as ever, Lord Marius. I should have realised. Fiona Ellen Greene, I apologise."
"It really is okay." Fiona managed to drag her eyes away long enough to smile briefly at Kadogan before staring again at the small, inoffensive pillar candle. With a massive effort of will she managed to force herself to reach forward and touch the candle. It felt just the same as ever, slightly cool, smooth and waxy. She picked it up and looked at it. It remained exactly the same. She carefully put it down again on a different shelf.
For some reason this was a turning point. She had seen hints of what an elfen really does look like under the glamour, and she had been introduced to people that were described as goblins or boggarts or brownies but who had looked perfectly normal. Everything had happened so quickly that she hadn't had a chance to catch her breath. The electricians who had sorted out the wiring may have been goblins, but they had looked like electricians to Fiona, drinking endless cups of tea and nipping off to the bookies when there was a break. Somehow seeing this candle move had made it real. Suddenly, with no warning, this small thing that could be rigged with some fishing line and a hook, that was so routine and unexciting if seen on tv, had turned her world upside down.
"I will ring Reverend Darren King." Kadogan announced. "He will not begrudge a journey to visit, and he will be able to explain everything to Fiona."
Lord Marius nodded. "He is the ideal person to do so. Fiona should have been told earlier, perhaps, but I understand you have been busy, and it has been obvious she has not been endangered."
"Hmm?" It sounded a long way off to Fiona and she felt a bit giddy. Without warning Kadogan scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the back room just as things started going dark at the edges. He sat her gently down on a chair and disappeared for a moment.
"I thought this may be required. Though it is remarkably hard to purchase smelling salts in these times." Kadogan waved something under Fiona's nose and she gasped as the ammonia hit. As she started to come round she found a glass pushed against her lips and she took an obedient swallow. Liquid fire ran down her throat and took the last of her breath away.
As she choked Kadogan held up the bottle to Lord Marius. "It is quite difficult to get hold of decent brandy in these days. The brandy sold in shops is so insipid. I managed to get hold of this from a private distillery on a trip to Arles."
"There are a great many laws these days on alcohol." Lord Marius said. "And it is an inconvenience. However, as I understand you have not spent so much time with normals, I fear you fail to remember their frailty. Alcohol of this strength can be injurious to them, they require more insipid fare." He looked at Fiona who was starting to come round from her choking fit. "Fortunately it appears that Fiona Ellen Greene is unaffected, but perhaps a cup of coffee all round will be a good idea. Five sugars for me."
The Reverend Darren King, exorcist, was not what Fiona had expected. Her first thought on meeting him was just how good looking he was. For a start he was younger than she expected, in his late thirties, with short dark hair and green eyes. And he just didn't look like a vicar. He was wearing jeans that had been value brand many years ago and were almost washed to death with a shrunken t-shirt and a battered leather jacket. He parked up in the empty car park, raised his eyebrows at the brownies industriously landscaping, grabbed a large sports bag out of the back of the car and knocked hard on the door.
Kadogan opened the door to him with a smile. "Reverend Darren King, how good of you to come, and at short notice. We open tomorrow, you know."
"I thought it best to have a quick word with Miss Greene." Darren said, closing the door behind him. "Especially as there is no effective paladin around. Have you introduced Miss Green to Lord Ragnar?"
"Lord Ragnar has said that he will believe in the shop once it is open." Kadogan shrugged. "I am sure he will be convinced of his reality once he gets his tribute."
"There has been a lot of interest in the catalogues." Darren said, looking around. "And this looks like a pretty good set up. I've got a list of orders from the Village." He waved a bundle of papers vaguely at Kadogan. "Anyway, let's get the exorcism out of the way, then I can have a word with Miss Greene." He smiled professionally at Fiona. "Just to let you know a bit about what's going on. Is there somewhere I can wash my hands?"
"Er, you can use the kitchenette in the back." Fiona was caught off guard as she had been admiring the toned biceps revealed when Darren took off his jacket. "Our cafe is being set up at the moment, so you can't really use those sinks."
"Great." Darren picked up the bag and walked briskly ahead of Fiona. She enjoyed the view. "In here? And then you had better show me the site."
Fiona was glad that she didn't need to be at the exorcism. Just the candle rolling by itself had unaccountably shaken her. What would a real exorcism do to her? The ones in the films seemed bad enough. She stood for a moment at the new counter and gathered her thoughts. The till was working and there were spare till rolls. Kadogan had exerted the most unearthly influence and they had a card payment point and it was set up and working. The wooden floors had been re-varnished, the walls were unobtrusively painted and lined with newly filled display units. The lighting was working and the chairs for the cafe had finally come and were distributed already around the tables.
Louise was setting things out and making lists. Fiona was really a bit worried about her. She seemed so shy and nervous that it seemed to be almost cruel to make her deal with the public serving tea and coffee. However Kadogan had insisted as she had needed a job and he felt he owed her the chance due to something connected with Louise's great-grandfather. Fiona had not tried to pursue the line of reasoning. In her experience, trying to get a logical explanation from Kadogan was not worth a candle.
An almighty crash came from the cafe area and Louise shrieked in shock as a tray of cups fell inexplicably from the top of the hot chocolate machine. Darren came stalking out of the store room and straight over to the cafe. 'Of course,' thought Fiona, 'That cafe wall backs onto the store room, and that's probably where the shelf is.' She found herself mentally trying to work out the relative distances as she ran over to Louise. Darren pushed past her and started to firmly lecture the wall in Latin. Louise grabbed hold of Fiona's arm.
"We'd better get out of Darren's way." Fiona said quietly, moving back carefully.
Louise nodded. "It's only a minor spirit, but it's tricky. He'll need a bit of room to work."
Fiona glanced at her. So much for comforting the nervous girl. Darren was continuing, it sounded like he was praying, although it did sound at one point as if he was snapping a Latin version of, 'You-stay-exactly-where-you-are-or-else.' Kadogan came out from the stairwell looking untroubled.
"It is always a pleasure to watch an expert excel in his chosen field." He remarked calmly.
"Do you mind?" Darren snapped irritably before continuing with his Latin. He then stalked back to the store room. Fiona trailed a safe distance after him and peered into the room. Darren made the sign of the cross over the wall and splashed it with water from a small, silver cup. There was a sound like a gunshot. Then Darren nodded in satisfaction and started packing up his things. "Miss Greene, may I have a word in private?" he asked.
"That is entirely appropriate." Kadogan said. "I shall assist Louise in clearing up the cups."
"Would you like a tea or a coffee?" Fiona asked brightly, trying to hide that she was suddenly nervous.
"Tea, milk, no sugar." Darren leant against the door frame as Fiona bustled about the kettle. She looked at her speciality teas. It was definitely an Orange Pekoe type of afternoon. "You are doing okay."
Fiona paused as she poured hot water into the mugs. She didn't feel like it. "Would you like a biscuit?" She asked.
"I'm fine, thanks. And you are doing okay. But are you doing okay for the right reasons?" Darren took his mug off her. "Is there anywhere we can sit with a bit of comfort?"
"We can go upstairs. We'll be renting a few of the rooms out, but at the moment we have a sort of office going." Fiona eased past Darren. "This way."
The top floor of the building was newly decorated as well but was still a blank canvas, just bare but clean and decorated walls. One room upstairs had been converted into an office and there were two chairs and a table next to the window. They hadn't got around to putting up curtains or blinds yet and the weak spring sunshine seemed almost harsh. Fiona moved some papers from the table to next to the computer and waved Darren to sit down. "We've been focusing on the shop." She said, a bit lamely.
Darren didn't seem to be paying any attention to his surroundings. He carefully placed his mug in front of him and looked hard at Fiona. "Let me summarise. You saved Kadogan's life just before Christmas. He decides that he owes you - and he does - and that he is going to give you your heart's desire. Three and a half months later you find yourself in a converted pub about to open a mystical supplies shop with Kadogan. Was that your desire?"
Fiona struggled to look back over the last few months. "It's hard to work out how it happened. He asked me about what I had wanted as a little girl, and I remember how much I had liked my auntie's card shop. I had helped there when I was little, sorting out the cards, watching the calendar to put out the right cards for the right time of year, keeping up with the gift wrap and the ribbons..." Fiona sighed. "Of course, small card shops aren't really worth it unless you are in a particular location, and the best locations have horrifically high rents. So Kadogan suggested we have a shop that sells stuff that his people want and sells cards and candles and that. It seemed like a good idea. He'd put up the money, and we would run it together. I would get job satisfaction and a chance to make money and a bit of a stake in life and he would get a chance to make money and partly repay me." She shrugged. "It made sense."
"So he has you to do the donkey work for a financial enterprise that will give him contacts all over the UK." Darren said bluntly. "Why did you pick the White Hart?"
"That was really easy." Fiona said. "Pubs are closing all over the country. You can blame the supermarkets or the internet or the smoking ban, but they are shutting down all over the place. The White Hart is on the outskirts of a tourist town, has parking, lots of space and is cheap. Kadogan paid cash for leasehold and freehold. It went through on the nod - and yes, I was sensible enough to get my own solicitor to check it. I've heard about fairy gold."
Darren grunted. "Well you know something then. Watch out for that, though Kadogan will take it pretty seriously that you've saved his life. I daresay you're handing out plenty of coffees to Lord Marius as well. He's as trustworthy as an elfen gets - which is to say, not very. He'll prod for gossip and stir up trouble given half a chance, but he is mainly less harmful than most." Darren took a sip from his tea. "Lord Ragnar, the local prince, is also okay. He knows better than to prod too hard at a normal, though you are not entirely under the protection of the local paladin due to your association with Kadogan." Darren frowned "Have you met the local prince?"
Fiona shook her head. "He sounds terrifying." she said quietly.
"Has Kadogan explained about Callum - the local paladin?" Darren asked.
Fiona shook her head.
"Callum Albright is, or was, the local paladin. Paladins usually turn up where there are princes. Their job is to protect the normal population, keep the peace and work with the local princes and non normals to make sure law and order continues. Except Callum has been in a coma since early October and the signs aren't good." Darren looked worried for a moment. "There was a car crash, and all the investigations and scrying have not found anything suspicious, just a drunk losing control of his car and crashing into Callum. At first they induced coma because of his head injuries, but he has faded. No-one is sure what is going to happen."
"Can the prince pick a new paladin, or get a stand in?" Fiona asked.
"The princes have no say in who becomes a paladin." Darren smiled wryly. "That's the point. The paladins have to keep a check on the princes. Something picks a paladin, something mystical." He looked thoughtful and took a sip of his tea. "The first some know about it is when the local werewolf is knocking on their door complaining about the noise their normal neighbours are making and what's the paladin going to do about it? Usually they are found before that. With Callum being alive and yet out of action, no-one knows." Darren trailed off, looking into the middle distance. Then he visibly pulled himself together. "Anyway, you should be okay, don't take food or drink from anyone you're not sure of and ask Kadogan to deal with anyone non normal giving you grief. I'll write the numbers of the local Knights Templar down for you if you get any trouble, they should be able to help out at a push. Don't give credit and keep smiling." He paused. "By the way, what sort of price are you doing on your Church Incense?"
"I think that, considering the travelling and the incense, we can let you have a few packs for free." Fiona said, draining her mug. "It's the least we can do."
Fiona led the way downstairs, feeling suddenly very drained. There seemed to be a lot to take in and tomorrow they opened to the public - normal and non normal. Fiona wondered if she would be able to tell the difference. She walked wearily towards the store room to pick up the incense and felt almost offended at Kadogan's cheery smile as he hung up the phone.
"Great news, Fiona Ellen Greene" He said cheerfully. "We have our tarot reader."
Dave Kinson checked his look in the mirror. He didn't look like a Tarot Reader. His dark hair was too short, he was too clean shaven and he didn't even have an earring. He wasn't going to get one either. The jeans were worn, though clean, and the sweatshirt he had pulled on had a psychedelic pattern on. His last girlfriend but one had bought it. Dave frowned for a minute. Was it Michelle? No, he was pretty sure it had been Keely. No, it had definitely been Michelle. The t-shirts Keely had got him were far too plain to be of use. Dave shook his head at his reflection. He looked wrong. It couldn't be helped though. This was too good an opportunity to miss.
He grabbed up the cloth bag with the tarot cards, the embroidered silk cloth he had found in a charity shop and the book that had the prompts and ran easily down the stairs. This would be a break, just a breathing space, when he could work out what it was he really wanted to do.
"Hello, Mrs Gittens." he said cheerfully as he jogged past his landlady and towards the door.
"Mr Kinson, you know my rules." Mrs Gittens said sternly. "You have to be working to stay here, I was very clear."
"I am on my way to work now." Dave looked injured, his brain working frantically.
"But it's not proper work, is it?" Mrs Gittens folded her wrinkled hands in front of her respectable dress. "Proper work is a proper job, with start and finish times and everything."
"The rent is up to date." Dave said apologetically. "And I am keeping busy."
"Rent or no rent. I want a proper job for my lodgers. This self employed stuff is no good."
"Things are a bit awkward and there aren't that many jobs around at the moment." Dave hefted the bag.
Mrs Gittens sniffed. "My cousin at Leeds has a dry cleaning business and is desperate for a good driver. He'll let you have the use of the van and everything."
"That sounds great, but I've got to go." Dave could think of nothing worse than a job as a delivery driver. "I've got a chance with a new shop and I don't want to be late."
Dave jogged down to the White Hart. He remembered when it had been a pub where hard men and their harder wives had a drink. It had certainly changed. The new landscaping looked sparse in the thin spring sunlight and while the new paint on the exterior looked tasteful it was still raw. He knocked on the locked door.
The woman who opened it looked harassed and a smear of dust streaked down her face and over the cheap t-shirt. Her jeans were filthy. Dave smiled warmly at her. Underneath the dirt of the last minute rush there was a lovely woman. "Hi, I'm Dave Kinson, the tarot reader. I spoke to someone called Kadogan and they said you would be opening tomorrow and could I come and get set up."
"I'm Fiona Greene." Fiona waved him in. "How much has Kadogan discussed with you?"
"He just said this was a new business with a strong New Age ethos." Dave looked around. "It looks impressive."
It was looking impressive. The stands along the walls were filled with a range of merchandise from darkly dramatic to prosaically pragmatic. Several stands of delicately beautiful cards were dotted around the wide space and near the till there were swathes of exquisite wrapping paper. Louise was sweeping up some shreds of the packing boxes and Kadogan was looking superior as he counted the candles on the display on the far wall. A discreet sign asked people to book at the till to see the Tarot Reader.
"You do know that the tarot reading is for entertainment purposes only?" Dave said tentatively. "I don't actually believe in stuff like tarot."
Fiona looked at him, then over at Kadogan. "We have two stands full of tarot books, we have a locked case full of expensive tarot decks and some of the artwork was directly inspired by the Rider Waite deck." She waved a hand over at the tasteful print of the Six of Wands. "And you are telling me that you don't believe in Tarot?"
Dave looked at her carefully. "I'm very good at the Tarot Readings. I listened to what people say and I tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes I tell them what they need to hear. It's sort of like counselling but with cards."
"Like counselling?" Fiona looked at him in some disbelief.
"It's cheaper than proper counselling." Dave said defensively. "And I have had some training in counselling." It had been online and at least it hadn't cost too much before he realised he really didn't have the patience to be a counsellor.
Kadogan came stalking over. "I am sure that there is one more white Church candle of three inches diameter than there should be according to the manifest."
"That's an acceptable margin of error." Fiona said gravely.
"I am not sure that any error is acceptable when it comes to candles." Kadogan brightened when he saw Dave. "Dave Kinson, tarot reader, I am glad you have come. You are very welcome."
"I was just explaining that the readings I do are for entertainment purposes only." Dave said warily.
"What does that mean?" Kadogan asked.
"It means he doesn't believe in tarot readings." Fiona said flatly.
"Well, of course not!" Kadogan stared at Fiona. "That would be completely inappropriate. Fiona, please will you show Dave Kinson where he will be doing the readings and if he chooses to use accommodation here I'm sure it can be arranged for a nominal rent. Now if you will excuse me I need to check on the scented candles."
Fiona led Dave through the door behind the till. "There's advantages to converting a pub. You would not believe the amount of storage rooms and cellars, and the living quarters upstairs are being converted into a few flats. Are you looking for somewhere?"
Dave tried to play it cool. "It would be convenient." He said thoughtfully. "My landlady is lovely, but she doesn't really approve of tarot reading."
"I'm not sure I do." Fiona said with complete truth. "Actually, I'd never even considered it. Anyway, here's your room. We've shoved some basics in here, we take 10% from each consultation for the first three months then we move to a fixed rent. The bedsits are basic and we have the minimum of furnishings, but the rent reflects that. Can you provide references?"
Dave could always provide references. Some of them were genuine. He looked around. The walls were painted white and there was a plain blind at the window. One plain, square, IKEA table sat in the centre of the small room. Two chairs were pushed under it, one either side. A small chest of drawers sat in one corner and a few spare chairs were neatly lined against the far wall. "Can I decorate in here?"
"Within reason." Fiona looked at him thoughtfully. "I mean, nothing too sinister, nothing that needs planning permission, nothing that will need a builder to put right and nothing with adult content."
Dave looked around. "How about the floor?"
Fiona looked down at the plain, beige carpet. "What do you have in mind?"
"Just a rug, nothing dramatic." Dave said cheerfully. "I'll get the paint and get started."
Fiona looked at him carefully. Dave gave her his most trustworthy smile. "How about hanging pictures?"
"As long as it's done carefully." Fiona frowned. "Let me know if you want one of the flats when you've finished painting."
It didn't take long for Dave to set up as he wanted. The walls were painted a tasteful pale blue as some research on the internet suggested that it was a protective colour. He had even copied the Seal of Solomon from the internet, painting it directly onto the wall and then hanging an empty picture frame over it. It looked pretty good. He looked around with some satisfaction. It was uncluttered, calm with just the right hint of mystical. There was a quick knock at the door and Kadogan came in.
"What an excellent job." Kadogan nodded as he looked around. "Will you be decorating if you take one of our flats?"
"Possibly." Dave said cautiously.
"It is perhaps best if you speak with Fiona about that." Kadogan frowned as he looked at the Seal of Solomon on the wall.
"It's just a design I copied from the internet." Dave said quickly.
Kadogan looked at it for a moment longer, then turned to Dave. "Tomorrow we open at noon. Fiona has made some advanced bookings for your services and you have three requiring readings tomorrow afternoon." Kadogan hesitated. "Tomorrow morning a friend of mine will be calling. He's quite harmless, but he is a little odd."
Dave looked blankly at Kadogan. This was a man obsessed by candles and had hired a tarot reader just by answering an ad in the paper and he thought his friend was odd. "I won't get in the way."
"Good. Now, let's have a look at the flats." Kadogan strode out of the door with a confident air. "I think you will be pleased with their standards."