Under Dark Hills

 A series of short stories following on from the events in Dinner at Dark and telling the story of Paul.

mountain with clouds at daytime
Image from Unsplash, taken by Joshua Fuller


“It’s definitely my mother-in-law,” Elaine said. “She loathed me.”

Paul Kidson glanced briefly at her, then looked back at the glyphs he was chalking on the wall. “It’s tricky to know exactly what we’re dealing with,” he said.

Elaine watched anxiously over his shoulder. “She always said that she would come back and haunt me.”

“Did she die recently?” Paul asked. He meticulously measured an angle and moved across the room to mark another glyph.

“No, it’s been a few years,” Elaine said. “But Dave, my husband, he’s gone abroad on a six month placement that was too good to miss, and my son is at university now, so it’s just me. I think she thought I would be an easy target now,” Elaine added bitterly.

“I see,” Paul kept his opinions to himself. He marked another glyph. “Could you step into this circle here – through the gap, not over the markings, please.”

Elaine, her eyes round, stepped through the gap. Paul closed the gap with chalk and took his position in his own circle. He looked hard at Elaine. “Do not interrupt me. Do not question me. Do not make a sound.” Inwardly he sighed. The damn thing only manifested if Elaine was present, so he had to have her here. He didn’t like working with an audience, though, and he didn’t have much hope that she would respect his concentration. He raised his arms centred himself and began.

Paul found himself fighting for mental balance. He was used to vague presences and a flicker of a candle flame, but this was different. The air grew thick around him and smoke drifted and spiralled. He concentrated hard on his words. A corner of his mind noted Elaine shivering in her circle but she was blessedly silent. He was aware, however, of an underlying muttering. Whatever was haunting this house had a lot to say. A bookshelf toppled over in the corner and Elaine flinched. Paul ignored both it and the crash in the kitchen. He needed to divert the power. He looked over at the jar open in the centre of a chalked triangle. The smoke was swirling nearer but was not near enough. “Spirit, I give you leave to speak!” It was a mistake.

“That woman is in my house without my son!” an older woman’s voice snapped. “That woman is in my house.”

“You know it was my money that paid off the mortgage,” Elaine yelled. “And I paid a load of the bills.”

“But it’s my house,” the voice shouted. “And you are a trollop.”

“After all I’ve done for your son, this is what you’re like?” Elaine shouted. “You should have been down on your knees thanking me, Brenda, for all I had to put up with.”

“You are in my house and you are a slut,” Brenda’s disembodied voice shrieked. “And you haven’t cleaned behind the bed in the spare room.”

“Nobody’s been in there for months!” Elaine yelled back. “Why should I kill myself with housework, working all the hours, then coming back to an empty home with your son away with what he calls his job. I bet he’s not dusting behind spare beds while he’s away.”

“Busy with work?” Brenda’s voice suddenly sounded smooth, like poisoned syrup. “Busy with that young man you call Mick, and you ought to be ashamed.”

“You leave Mick out of this!” Elaine shouted. “And I remember hearing all about you and Bert and what your poor husband thought of it all. You have no room to talk.”

Paul fought for concentration as the allegations and insults flew before he managed to push out the final syllables, helped by Brenda’s increasing focus on the argument with Elaine. With an incongruous pop, the smoke snaked into the jar and curled up, vibrating. Paul muttered a few protective syllables, stepped over the chalk line and flinched. A crack of electricity ran through the air but, before the smoke could escape, Paul clipped the lid over the jar and wrapped it quickly in red thread. He stood, wincing, and said a few more words before nodding at Elaine. “You can come out of the circle now.”

Elaine stumbled across the chalk line and stared at the jar. “Is that her?”

“It could be something using her voice,” Paul said. “It sounded like generic insults to me. I think it’s more likely to be a malevolent spirit.”

“It could be her as well as a malevolent spirit,” Elaine said. “That woman was poison.” She glared at the jar. “She spoiled my engagement, my wedding, my honeymoon, my first baby, the Christening…” She looked at Paul, pale faced and swaying next to her and then down at his arm. A burn mark had sliced through his shirt from wrist to elbow and deep into the skin beneath. “You had better run that under the cold tap before you do anything else.”

Paul looked down at the livid mark, then across at the jar, which was rocking slightly. “I think I’ll just take care of one last thing. I don’t want whatever that is to have the last word.”

The Interview

“Please, come in. I’m Mike Dixon and this is Richard Darke. We are the trustees behind this project. I hope that you found us without too much trouble.” Mike gestured to a chair in the well-furnished study.

Paul Kidson smiled and sat down. “The roads are a little tricky up here in the wilds of the Penines, but I checked a map before I came and I have a very good satnav.”

“Would you like a tea or a coffee, Paul?” Richard asked. “I think that anyone who makes it as far as my house deserves some refreshments.”

“Thank you, a cup of tea would be nice.” Paul looked around the study. “Is this where the job is?”

Richard shook his head. “I’m afraid it isn’t. Hang on, I’ll just shout for my housekeeper.”

Mike shuffled the papers in front of him as Richard yelled for Carol, his housekeeper. There was something about Paul that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The man had come for a job interview. He should be the one shifting nervously in his seat. Instead he seemed to be completely in control. “So, your last place of work shut down?” he asked.

Paul nodded. “The owner wanted to retire. None of his family were interested and, to be honest, it was an old fashioned business that wasn’t keeping up. Mr Andrews, my boss, wouldn’t deal with emails, for example. I had to print it all out for him. He refused to have a website. It was a shame because it was a nice place to work.”

Mike flicked through the papers. “You ran the office, according to this. Does that mean all of it?”

“I sent the accounts to the accountant once a year,” Paul said. “But I did everything else. Mr Andrews paid for me to take courses at night school.”

Mike met Richard’s eyes. The qualifications looked promising, with a lengthy list of certificates. “A small cottage comes with the job, or rather, the job is inside a small cottage. Are you prepared to move here?” The man was too controlled. There didn’t seem to be a stray movement.

“As you can see, I left a foster home a few years ago,” Paul stated. “I’ve lived in house shares since. I don’t really have any roots. Moving here would be a bonus. The area is beautiful.”

“Do you have any connection to the area?” Richard asked.

Paul shook his head. “No, I just saw the advert and thought it would be interesting.”

“It’s interesting, alright,” Mike said. “There is a mass of documents and books that need cataloguing. There are boxes of diaries that need transcribing and, well, just a load of stuff that needs sorting out. The cottage has a room full of paperwork and, to be honest, we don’t know where to start.”

There was a knock on the door and a young woman came in with a trolley. “Sorry to interrupt.” She held up a teapot and looked questioningly at Paul.

“Milk, no sugar,” he said. He stretched out a hand to take the cup and his shirt sleeve rode up, exposing part of a livid burn.

“That looks bad,” Richard said. “How did you get that?”

Paul looked at his arm. “On the oven,” he lied. “To be honest, I’d forgotten about it.”

Carol smiled brightly, handed Mike and Richard their cups and left.

“That was my housekeeper,” Richard said. “She gave the cottage a bit of a clean for whoever gets the job, and we’ve supplied a few basics. Some of the work will be done up here, and she’ll be around. She’s very efficient.”

Paul sipped the excellent cup of tea and smiled. “I’m sure she is. The job said that those of a superstitious nature should not apply.”

Mike had been dreading this sort of question. “A lot of the papers refer to folk beliefs,” he said airily. “We think that there may have been a sort of code, or perhaps ongoing mental issues…”

Richard jumped in to help him. “If you are bothered by the idea of ghosts and such then perhaps it isn’t the job for you. And some of the books are of what could be considered an ‘occult’ nature.”

“We think that people got carried away. I mean, no-one believes in magic anyway,” Mike added.

“Of course not,” Paul said. “But I’ve always found folk belief fascinating. It would be interesting to see what’s there.”

“We might consider publishing some of the papers later, or donating to a museum or library,” Richard said. “For academic purposes only,” he added quickly. “They would need to be in order for that.”

“Are there a lot of papers?” Paul asked.

Mike shuddered in spite of himself. “There’s about a ton of them. And all the little diaries and notebooks in leather bindings, stacked three deep in the bookshelves. We expect the work to take at least a year.”

“So we have to ask about how you would feel being so isolated,” Richard said. “We can be all but cut off over the winter, and the power goes down regrettably often.”

“The chance of some peace and quiet after the last few years sounds wonderful,” Paul said. “I’ve been cooped up with roommates and the thought of a bathroom that I don’t have to share sounds wonderful.”

“Would you like to take your tea into the living room and wait,” Richard asked. “I’d like to have a word with Mike.”

They watched Paul pick up his cup and leave. Mike closed the door carefully and then the werewolf and vampire looked at each other. Mike shook his head. “It’s got to be him. I mean, I don’t think that he’s the one but he’s the one meant to do the project. No-one else has applied.”

“There’s some strange forces at work,” Richard said. “I hope that he isn’t too interested in occult documents. We would have our hands full then. But we need the stuff in order for when the Paladin turns up.”

Mike shook his head. “It feels wrong. The Prince hasn’t been out of his domain for, what is it?”

“I haven’t seen him out of his lands for about two hundred years,” said Richard. “He was never really interested in vampires like Nathan and I anyway. I’ve heard that he’s become too susceptible to iron, like all the old and powerful elfen. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was replaced.”

“And that’s a war I want our pack to stay out of,” Mike said. “It never ends well for the werewolves. But, well, it’s not right that we’re looking out for a Paladin.”

“What choice do we have?” Richard sighed. “I suppose we had better tell him that he’s got the job.”

Where Do You Start

Paul pulled up in front of the stone cottage with a sigh of relief. He was a city lad, born and bred, and the country roads had been a challenge. The drive with all the narrow lanes, blind corners and dry stone walls inches away from the car had been harrowing. He got out and stretched. The roads may be a nightmare, but there were compensations. The air was fresh and the only sounds he could hear were birds and sheep, apart from the thumping coming from the cottage window. He knocked politely on the door. “Hello, is that Mike?” he called.

There was a patter of feet and the door flew open. A small brunette, flushed and out of breath, smiled at him. “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Carol.”

“Of course I remember you,” Paul said. “We met at Richard’s house, during the interview.”

Carole grinned. “It’s good to see you. Come on in. I’ll give you a quick look around. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“I’d love one,” Paul said, relaxing a little. “The drive here was terrifying.”

Carol laughed as she led Paul inside. “You’ll get used to it. Okay, this is the hall…”

Carol showed Paul around the deceptively large cottage. “I was in the middle of giving it a good clean when you knocked. Richard has suggested that I come down here once a week to give it a turn out, depending on how you feel.” She looked around the plain, plastered walls. “It could do with it. The place has been neglected for years. Anyway, once you have had a fire going for a while, it will warm up.” She led him out of the back door. “Firewood is there.” She waved an arm at a well stocked store. “And you can get propane in Hebden Bridge. That’s probably the best place to call in for food, or Halifax, or even Burnley. There isn’t a town close.”

“I’m not used to it being so quiet,” Paul said, looking out the window to the rolling moor. “But I can see me getting used to it.”

“I moved here from London,” Carol said. “It was a real shock to the system. By the way, the electricity can go in bad weather. Follow me and I’ll show you where we keep oil lamps and candles. There are some solar powered lamps as well, on the shelves in the kitchen, but Richard is old fashioned and he likes to make sure that we are all prepared.”

Paul peered at the cupboard under the stairs. “What’s in the safe?”

“Hmm?” Carol looked again. “I’ve no idea. I’ll ask Richard. Anyway, on the subject of being prepared, you can’t always get a signal for mobile phones so we use landlines.” She led Paul across to the large living room. “There’s a list of useful numbers next to the phone. You may want to copy them into your mobile. Mike runs a construction business and Richard works in IT so between them they can sort out most things. I’ve stocked the kitchen with the most obvious things, but there are farm shops around for any extras, and you can always pop in to somewhere like Todmorden or Haworth.”

Paul followed Carol into the kitchen. “I don’t think that there’s a house within miles. I can’t exactly knock on a neighbour’s door to borrow some milk.”

Carol laughed. “Well, we’re just up the hill. I usually have a good stock cupboard.” She frowned. “With more jobs working remotely, a lot of people have been moving up here. I’ve had a few people knock on my door, and there’s one that seems very persistent.” She shook her head and clicked the kettle on. “I’m sure that you’ll be fine. I’ve got tea and coffee in here, and I put a few packets of rice and pasta in the cupboards. I baked some biscuits and cakes for you – I’d like the boxes back, please – and I put a few meals in the freezer.”

Paul stopped for a moment. He wasn’t used to this. “It’s very kind of you,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It’s not a problem,” Carol said. She handed him a mug and beckoned him outside. A stone bench stood behind the kitchen door, looking over a tiny, unkempt back garden and then across a dry stone wall to the moorland. “No-one has lived here for years.” She frowned. “I think there’s some sort of mystery going on. I don’t know if Mike is planning to convert it to a holiday cottage or something.” She shrugged and took her seat at one end. “All I know is that there is a stack of papers that Mike and Richard want sorting. Oh, I nearly forgot.” Carol waited until Paul was sat next to her and handed over a key ring. “Front door, back door, meter cupboard and these two are the paper room.” She dropped the keys into Paul’s waiting hand. “Richard would like you to keep the paper room locked at all times.” She looked over towards a large house in the distance. “I’ve started keeping the doors locked at Darke Manor,” she said. “I never used to, but since Theo McGuire started prowling around, I’ve not felt as comfortable.”

“I can’t imagine leaving a door unlocked,” Paul said. “I’ve always lived in the city. But I’ll be careful.”

Paul watched her leave and then unloaded the car. He had kept things to a minimum. His exercise equipment, some clothes, toiletries and laptop didn’t take up much space. His books and notebooks had taken up a little more. Paul looked around carefully before opening the boot. When you practice magic in a room in a shared house you learned to be discreet and you learned to work with the bare essentials of tools. It still took up most of the boot, however, and the polished wooden cases that he had commissioned were a contrast to the battered holdalls and supermarket bags that held the rest of his stuff. He really didn’t want anyone to see these. He carried the equipment to one of the spare rooms. He could always hide it back in the car on the days that Carol came cleaning, or perhaps he could shove them in the locked paper room. Paul wondered how much there could be in there. There was bound to be space if he was careful.

 Paul took his time. Richard and Mike had been clear. His job was to make sense of a collection of handwritten notebooks and papers, get them in some sort of order and catalogue them so that there was a rough guide to what was there. They seemed very trusting, Paul thought, as he sat on the stone bench and had the protein shake and salad that he had brought with him. There were no guidelines, no timesheet, and no hint that they would even call in regularly. They seemed to think that the job would take a while, and the pay was quite generous, so what was the catch? They hadn’t even asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Paul carefully tidied the remains of his lunch away, grabbed a notebook and, after checking that the front and back doors were locked, opened the so-called paper room. For a long moment he just stood and stared. He hadn’t expected this.

Carol had not been allowed in here, that was obvious. Apart from the generous amounts of dust, there was no hint of cleaning spray hanging in the atmosphere like the rest of the cottage. Instead it was musty and the air felt dead and overstuffed. It was a large room and dozens of side tables were heaped with bundles of papers, notebooks, files, maps and battered books. A couple of generous mahogany bookcases on the far wall spilled over with wedges of more notebooks and papers. The wide window was barred and locked, with dirty net curtains hiding the view and filtering the light. Opposite was a huge map that looked older than Paul, complete with pencil notes and rusty push pins. Someone had brought in a small folding desk and computer chair and, from the drag marks, shoved another box of paper out of the way to set them out. A fresh post-it note was stuck to it. Paul carefully shut the door behind him and went over to the desk. The note read, ‘filing cabinets and filing supplies arriving Monday. Please inform if more needed. R.’

Paul put his tea and notebook down on the table and turned around several times. Where did he start? What was all this stuff? He picked up the nearest notebook and opened it at random. The handwriting was haphazard and the pencil was smudged, but Paul could read the title at the top of the page – Rogue werewolf at Carter’s Farm. He picked up another random book. Attempted demon summoning at Carr End. He strode over to a stack of leather bound books and tried to decipher the titles. His eyes widened as he read Amphitheatrum Sapientae Aeternae, Solius Verae. He’d only ever heard of that as he researched alchemy. He never thought that he would ever hold a copy – it went for thousands online.  

Paul sat down carefully in the cheap computer chair and stared around him. What on earth had he found? And what was he supposed to do now?


Paul nearly dropped the diary he was holding when he heard the knock on the door. He placed the diary carefully on the desk and then locked the Paper Room securely before answering the door, opening just after the second impatient knock. “Hello?”

The man at the door was not as tall as Paul, and certainly not as muscled. Paul was not bulky, but he worked out and it showed. The man at the door was skinny, with a thin, pointed faced under the black-dyed hair. “Hi, I’m Theo McGuire. I think I may be a neighbour.” He grinned and waved his hands at the open fields around, sharing the humour. “I have the white painted cottage a couple of miles down the road. I was passing and I saw your car and thought I would introduce myself.” He waited expectantly for Paul to invite him in.

Paul didn’t move but smiled blandly. “Passing?” He looked over Theo’s shoulder at the empty fields around. “There are a lot of walks around here. I’m still finding my way. I walked to the farm shop this morning for milk and it felt like an expedition.”

“I love a good walk, with a nice cuppa,” Theo leaned forward, the hint unmistakable. “I swear I’ve got fitter in just the last few weeks. But you’ve been here only a day or two?”

“I work out a lot anyway,” Paul said, still unmoving. “But it’s a pleasant change from the gym.”

Theo stepped back, frustrated, and looked over the front of the cottage. “This looks ancient. How old do you think it is? I wonder what stories it could tell. It’s an out of the way place, I’m sure that there’s dark deeds that happened here.”

“I’m sure that there has been stuff happening,” Paul said, thinking of the crazy stuff in the diaries. “Just by the law of averages. I mean, dark things happen in modern bungalows and bus stations.”

“But this is so out of the way,” Theo persisted. “You don’t need to be quiet in case the neighbours hear. Anything at all could go on. And there are stories in the villages around here of really dark stuff.” He leaned in a little closer. “According to some old books, there are monsters on these moors. They talk about werewolves and the undead.”

Paul thought again of the papers in the Paper Room. Werewolves were the least of it. “No-one believes in that sort of thing these days,” he said. “But it’s an interesting superstition.”

“Perhaps we could have a chat,” Theo suggested. “I’ve done a lot of research. You’d be surprised at how much stuff is out there.”

“Are you trying to make me nervous about staying here?” Pauls said calmly. “I’d love to talk, but I’m working. Perhaps we can catch up later.”

“When?” Theo asked.

Paul looked vague. “I’ve got a lot on at the moment. But I call in at the Crown sometimes, and I’ve heard that you’re often there. Perhaps we can meet up there at some point.”

Irritation sparked in Theo’s eyes, but he kept his smile fixed in place. “Well, I’ll see you then.” He paused, then waved a jaunty hand before setting off down the drive to the lane.

Paul watched him for a few moments before shutting the door and meticulously locking it. Then he headed into the kitchen for a large cup of tea. He waved briskly at Theo who was passing the back of the garden and wondered if Richard would mind if he put up some one way film on the windows. He felt under scrutiny. Then, after watching Theo move out of sight and checking that all the doors were locked, he took his cup of tea back into the Paper Room, locking the door behind him.

He sat at the desk but didn’t immediately start back on the list he was making. Instead he sipped his tea and looked through his memories. They were dark, and coming here hadn’t helped. Vampires and werewolves weren’t the half of it. The diaries and notebooks were full of stuff about them as well as boggarts, wights, brownies, goblins and gabble ratchets. He’d had to look those up. Richard had thought it was fiction, or even mental illness. He’d waved aside the subject when he had come to discuss the delivery of the filing cabinets. He thought the notes were those of an enthusiastic folklorist, like Sabine Baring-Gould. Everyone knew that there were no such things as werewolves and vampires.

Except Paul knew better. He had been nine when it had happened. The counsellors that the foster carers had brought in had explained that the huge hairy monster that had killed his parents was just his mind making sense of a terrible tragedy. The man who had killed his parents wasn’t a monster. He had been poorly inside and had been shot by police in a standoff later. Paul had been frustrated when his frantic accounts were dismissed, and his outbursts had him thrown out of a few foster homes before he made a decision. He had been just thirteen, traumatised, skinny and unloved. No-one believed him when he talked about the monster. Plenty avoided him. So he set out to change his life.

He had stopped talking about monsters, because everyone knew that they didn’t exist. He had watched his diet, exercised and studied. It hadn’t always been easy. Not all foster homes were good and food could be scarce. He had had to take what he could get. But he had grown strong and capable. His ability to train with the various martial classes had also varied with the foster placement, but he had kept his priorities straight and now that he was an adult he made the most of all opportunities.

He'd gone beyond just physical training, though. He’d trained his mind. He had meditated, studied and pushed himself beyond his own imagination. He learned magic. He had started on the books that filled up old libraries and second-hand shops but had worked beyond that. Now he had reached the place where people asked him to get rid of spirits and curses.

When he had started going through the papers, he had been tempted to go off and get drunk for a week. Paul smiled a little wryly and took another mouthful of tea. Habits of self-control were too ingrained now. Besides, after the first shock, he felt the calmest that he had for years. These were an affirmation. They were proof that the monster that he remembered from all those years ago was real.

The question remained, what was he going to do with this information? Would Richard accept that there was a possibility that there was truth in these papers? Was it responsible to allow some of these papers into the public domain? Paul had met too many people like Theo with too much imagination and too little discipline. There were descriptions in these books that allowed those with insider knowledge to recreate spells. Perhaps the most responsible thing would be to pile them in the garden, douse them in paraffin and burn them to ashes.

Paul looked around him. He couldn’t do that. These records were the story of men and women who had fought against the dark. Sometimes they lost. Sometimes they won at dreadful cost. But these were stories of people who hadn’t given up. He wasn’t giving up on them. And it wasn’t just people. Threaded through were references to allies who were werewolves, brownies, vampires and boggarts. They deserved respect and to have at least this small corner where their struggle was remembered.

Paul picked up his pen and checked his place. He had been digging through a notebook to find dates when he was interrupted. He needed to keep going. He couldn’t let these long-forgotten people down.

Watch and Wait

Richard looked out of the study window and sighed. The light was fading and the rain was setting in. Autumn was already rolling around. He watched Mike’s Range Rover pull up and saw him walk towards the kitchen door. It shouldn’t be up to him and Mike, but what was the alternative? He was a vampire, Mike was a werewolf, but they were the ones that would be protecting normals from non-normals. There should be a paladin and a prince, but there weren’t. There was just him and Mike.

The study door opened and Mike came in. “It’s rough weather out there.”

“It is indeed. And someone or something is lost out there,” Richard said, waving Mike to one of the comfortable leather armchairs near the fire. “I’m sure that the problem is a non-normal.”

“It has to be a brownie,” Mike said, sinking into the chair with a sigh.

“You’ve found something?” Richard asked.

“I’ve not had a chance to look. We’ve been tied up with a new build down by Mytholmroyd, and there’s a problem with the foundations. I haven’t had a chance to think. But what else could it be? Someone homeless doing chores for food?”

“I wish I knew,” Richard said. “But you know how the gossip runs around the area. Someone is breaking into houses, cleaning them, taking food and leaving without a trace. I don’t know many normals who can do that, or who would want to.”

Mike looked uncomfortable. “Times are getting hard, Richard.”

“We both know that,” Richard said. “But it’s the ease of getting in and out. No locks are forced and no windows broken. There isn’t even a record on alarms or door cameras. There’s no damage done, so it couldn’t be a boggart.” He thought for a moment. “Well, it’s unlikely to be a boggart. Your pack haven’t sniffed out a strange werewolf and a vampire wouldn’t have much use for food.”

“I’ve never heard of a rogue brownie before,” Mike said. “They’re usually law abiding, quiet and their cleaning services are booked up for years. Most of them have more money than you and me! Not that they do anything with it.”

“Not all of them have money,” Richard said. “There was that family over in Todmorden, and there was a whole group of them that lost their savings to the djinn, you know the ones, the Bestwich family, over near Sowerby Bridge. It was heart-breaking.”

Mike grunted. “Yes, but you got most of the money back for them and explained to the djinn what would happen if he tried it again around here.”

“I hope the paladin gets here soon,” Richard said as the door opened. Carol walked in with a tray.

“What’s a paladin?” she asked.

“It’s complicated,” Richard said.

“You may see them first,” Mike said. “You are out and about quite a lot.” He looked apologetically at Richard. “She needs to know. After all, it’s likely to be centred around here.”

“What is?” Carol set out two cups and saucers and looked warily between the two men.

Richard sighed and watched her pour the tea. “In brief, most areas have a prince, someone who keeps the non-normals like Mike and I in order, and a paladin, someone who protects the normals from the non-normals. Our prince is Lord Henry, but he hasn’t been seen since…”

Carol looked at him as he tracked back through his memories. “Is he a vampire?”

“No, not at all!” Richard said. “He’s an elfen – think psychotic nature spirit with impulse control issues and a lot of power. The princes all have domains in the Otherworld – think Fairyland – and Lord Henry retreated there after he returned from the battle of Corunna.” He saw Carol’s blank look and flicked through the internet on his phone. “1809, according to this. It was one of the battles of the Napoleonic Wars.”

“I’ve only seen him a few times,” Mike added. “To be honest, I think that he’s fading.”

Carol frowned. “What about the paladin?”

Richard ran a weary hand over his face. “Something, some higher power, appoints a paladin. It’s usually someone ex-army or police who understand about patrols and stuff. The last one was Makepeace Chambers. He was a good man.”

“When did he leave?” Carol asked.

“He died,” Richard said with soft sadness. “I was sorry when his time came, but he had a good life and a long one and he passed quietly.” He thought for a moment. “I think it was about the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation.”

Carol looked between the two of them. “So shouldn’t there be another one after that?”

Richard looked helplessly at Mike who looked at Carol. “No-one turned up. That’s what happens, they just turn up.”

Carol thought for a moment. “Why do you think one is coming now?”

“Nathan has had premonitions,” Richard said flatly.

“And there’s almost certainly going to be a new prince soon,” Mike added. “There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on for the non-normals, so it makes sense that a paladin will be around, to keep it out of the papers.”

Carol looked between the two men. “What about Paul, at the cottage? Could he be the paladin?”

Richard shook his head. “There are two reasons he couldn’t. First of all, he replied to a job advert. No paladin would turn up just for a job. And, while he is great at working with the papers, that’s all he does. He’s a clerk. Clerks don’t become paladins.”

Mike nodded. “There was a boggart over at Leeds that got into some bad mullein and it took half the local werewolf pack, a couple of elfen and a vampire to stop it from ripping up the town centre. A clerk can’t deal with that.”

Carol looked at him blankly. “I’ll take your word for it.” She hesitated for a moment. “It’s not likely to get scary, is it? I mean, there’s not going to be too much weird stuff?”

Richard shrugged. “I may have lived centuries, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It should be a peaceful handover, but with Lord Henry already so faded, it’s unpredictable.”

“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “We’ll look after you. Besides, you’ve already fought off a demon.”

“I don’t want to be reminded of that,” Carol said tartly. “So some paladin is going to turn up and you want me to keep an eye out. What should I look for?”

“I have no idea anymore,” Richard said. “We just have to watch and wait. They will probably be male and who looks like they can handle themselves and keep calm in a crisis. They may have a sword tattoo visible. And someone who’s ready to fight vampires and werewolves.”

“Not on these clean carpets,” Carol said.

“And that reminds me,” Richard said. “The Phantom Cleaner is probably a brownie that’s gone rogue. If you see anyone, be careful, but if you can point them in the direction of me or Mike, we’ll look after them.” He caught Carol’s speculative look. “And I couldn’t be a paladin. Vampires can’t.”

“Dinner will be in half an hour,” Carol sniffed, and left.

Mike waited until the door snapped shut behind Carol and looked thoughtfully at Richard. “But there’s no reason that you can’t be a prince.”

Company for Dinner

Paul paused in his brisk back from the farm shop. “Hello! Can I help you?”

The young woman peering furtively through a cottage window flinched and then backed away. “Um, I was just wondering if anyone was in.”

Paul looked at her. She looked in her early twenties, with dull brown hair and frightened eyes. She was far too thin. “I think that they’ll be home soon,” he lied. He waited to see what she would do next.

Her eyes darted frantically around. “I can’t really wait, I’d better get off. I don’t want to miss my bus.”

Paul stood calmly next to the gate. “There isn’t another bus here until Wednesday,” he said.

“I mean, car, I mean, my lift,” she stuttered.

Paul looked at her carefully. He had never seen anything less threatening in his life. “You’re the phantom cleaner, aren’t you?”

“What? No! I mean, I’m not a phantom! I mean, what are you accusing me of?” She tried to back away and stumbled, losing her footing on the edge of the path and landing with an undignified bump. She burst into tears.

Paul walked through the gate and held out a hand to her. “Come on, let me help you up.”

She hesitated, rubbed the tears from her eyes and then put her hand in his. “Thank you.”

Paul helped her up and led her gently out of the garden. “I’m Paul.” He hesitated, but he couldn’t abandon the woman in front of him. “Why don’t you come back to my cottage? You can stay outside while I make you a bite to eat and we can talk. You look like you could use a friendly listener.”

Her lip quivered as she fought for control. “I’m Liz,” she said, looking carefully over him.

Paul realised that his height and strength were doing him no favours at the moment. “I know you haven’t any reason to trust me,” he said, picking his words with care. “But all I want to do is give you something to eat, listen to your story and try and help you out – promise!”

Liz looked at him suspiciously. “I don’t take charity, you know,” she said. “I’ll do something in return. I’m good at cleaning, so perhaps I could help your wife?”

Paul recognised the question in the question. He picked up one of her bulky bags. “I’m not married. In fact, I live alone. I’m renting a cottage from Richard Dark, but I’ve only met him once or twice. I’m a stranger to the area and there is even a locked room that you mustn’t go in.” He looked down at the wide eyed woman. “That’s the main reason why I said that you could wait outside while I made you something to eat. You need to decide if you will trust me.”

Liz stared at him for a long moment, then took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Are you going to call the police?”

Paul shook his head. “But you can’t go breaking into places. Come on, I’ll make you something to eat and we can talk.”

Liz followed Paul back up the hill to the cottage. He led her around the back of the cottage to the stone bench. “Take a seat. Tea or coffee?” he said, unlocking the kitchen door.

Liz stared at the seat, then around the empty moorland at the back of the cottage. The light was fading from the sky and the air was damp. For a moment she seemed lost in thought and then shook her head. “I’m coming in to make the tea,” she said. “And I can put some washing on.”

Paul thought about his full laundry basket. “Don’t worry about that,” he said quickly. “Are you sure about coming in?”

Liz nodded. “I sort of trust you, heaven knows why. Anyway, I’m stronger than I look.”

“There really is a locked room you mustn’t go in,” Paul said quickly. “It’s not mine to show you. It’s full of confidential papers.”

Liz looked irritated. “I never pry,” she said. She took another deep breath and walked past Paul into the kitchen.

Paul followed her. “It’s a bit of a mess,” he said, “But I’ve got some bacon and eggs. I can make you a quick fry up.”

Liz looked around the spartan kitchen and tutted. “Why don’t you go into that locked room, let me know where to knock, and I’ll make some dinner. Then we can talk.”

“We’ll both be eating?” Paul asked. Liz looked like she would be blown over in a soft breeze.

“Of course, after I’ve done the work,” Liz opened some cupboards and frowned. “You said you had eggs?”

Paul held out the shopping bag from the farm shop. “There’s some bacon in there as well, and I picked up some butter.”

Liz peered inside the bag and sniffed again. “Right,” she said, taking off her coat and hanging it neatly on the back of the door. “Where shall I find you when I’m ready?”

“The door at the end of the hall,” Paul said, waving a hand in a vague direction. “Will you be okay?”

Liz gave him a long cool look. “I can make a simple supper. Now, if you’ll let me get on with things...” Paul took the hint and left.

Paul was absorbed in the faded entries of a diary when he heard a firm knock on the door. “Hang on.” He meticulously put the diary back in its place before opening the door.

Liz was in an apron, her face was a little flushed and her hands looked reddened and a little damp. “I’ve made dinner.”

“Wonderful,” Paul said as a savoury scent wafted down the hall. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“You don’t know if I can cook,” Liz said as she led the way down the short passage to the kitchen.

“Can’t all brownies cook?” Paul said absently, his mind still on the diary entries.

Liz gave a short gasp and froze. For a moment she stood, transfixed, in the hall before taking a deep breath. “I don’t know what you mean. Besides, my name isn’t Brown. It’s…” She scrabbled for a name. “I’m Liz Queen.”

Paul looked at her scared but defiant face and wondered what he was supposed to say now. He settled for the truth. “That room is full of documents about werewolves and vampires. My parents were killed by a boggart. Who else but a brownie is breaking into people’s houses and cleaning in return for food? Besides, I’m starving.” He pushed gently past her and into the kitchen.

It took all of his hard won self-control to keep walking casually over to the table which was now scrubbed within an inch of its life. Everything in the kitchen looked like it had been scrubbed within an inch of its life. The room gleamed. Paul took a seat at the table next to one of the plates, leaving the seat next to the kitchen door for Liz, in case she felt the need to escape. “This looks amazing.”

Liz took the seat opposite and sat ramrod straight. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Paul thought about breaking, entering and theft of food and decided not to argue. He remembered a fragment about brownies that he had read among the stacks of notes. “Should I say grace?”

“I should think so!” Liz said. “I’ve been properly brought up.” A shadow passed across her face before she squared her shoulders, folded her hands and looked expectantly at Paul.

Paul muttered a few words he remembered vaguely from a film he had seen, then looked uncertainly at Liz. “Should I serve?”

Liz looked much more assured. “Why don’t you help yourself while I pour the tea.”

Paul didn’t need much encouragement. The huge pasta bake sat on the table looked and smelled incredible. He took around a quarter of it and added some of the greens. “How did you manage to make this? I mean, it’s been less than an hour.”

Liz smiled as she helped herself to her own generous portion. “It’s surprising what I can do.” She hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Brownies have a knack, and I was brought up in the correct way of doing things.”

“I’m very grateful,” Paul said as he tucked into the delicious bake. “I was just going to fry bacon and eggs. This is amazing.”

They ate in companionable silence for a while, then Paul asked, “What happened?”

Liz put down her fork. She had eaten hungrily, but now she seemed to have lost her appetite. “I was staying with my family, at a house in Halifax. He was a bit of an old skin flint, but he left us alone most of the time and while he didn’t pay well, he paid prompt.” Liz paused and then took a sip of tea. “He got Covid first, then we all did.” Her eyes grew wide and she stared, unseeing, at the plate in front of her. “I got better, and I helped nurse him and my family, but…” She swallowed and tried again. “It took my family. We suffer with such things.” She forced a smile. “Perhaps it’s because of our weak chests that we insist so much on keeping things nice and clean.”

Paul looked around the immaculate kitchen. It was clean enough to perform surgery on any surface. “You did a good job in here,” he said.

Liz sighed. “If I had more time I’d do a thorough job. Anyway, when Mr Dent, the old man, died, it sort of took the fight out of my parents. They were poorly already, and they went quickly, with my brothers.” She rubbed away a tear and carried on, keeping the same matter of fact tone. “You see, we like to belong. Some families have their own business and can keep going with all their clients. Others stick to the same family. But old Mr Dent had no-one and then we heard that they were going to knock the building down.” Liz bit back a sob. “We had kept that house beautiful. And it was being pulled down to dust. Well, I’d recovered by then, but it just about finished off my sister, so it was just me. I didn’t know what to do, so I packed up what was rightfully mine and started walking. There wasn’t much money left, as we couldn’t get a normal doctor and the medicine and visits were expensive, and Mr Dent never liked parting with money anyway. I didn’t have money for a place, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought it was fair enough doing a bit of cleaning in return for food, but I think I may have upset people.”

Paul didn’t know where to start with that. “People feel uncomfortable if strangers have been in their home without them being invited,” he said carefully. “And I think some felt judged.”

“They should feel judged,” Liz snapped. “Some of those ovens were a disgrace! It took more than baking soda on them, I can tell you.” Her face softened. “But I did enjoy the clean.”

Paul felt out of his depth, but he couldn’t let the brownie down. “I can’t pay you much,” he said, “and I’m not sure how my employer would see you staying here, but if you stay and keep things clean I can work out some wages as well as food and board.” He looked hard. “That paper room has to stay out of bounds. I’m sorry, but Richard and Mike were really clear. And I don’t know what they would think about a cleaner.” He thought for a moment. “If they ask, I’ll tell them that you’re my girlfriend and you’re staying with me for a while. We just won’t say how long. That way, you can stay here until you work out what you want to do next. Do you have any other family?”

Liz shook her head. “We kept ourselves to ourselves and didn’t cause trouble. I know I need to find more brownies, but I don’t know where to start, and I’m so tired.” Her control finally cracked and she started to sob.

Paul reached over and gently patted her hand. “I’ve got to keep working, of course, but when I’m not, I’ll see what I can do to help. There may be clues in the room.” He fumbled for words. “And you can stay her for as long as you like until you work out what you want.”

Liz wiped her eyes. “And I can give this house a good going over, and the garden is a shame as well.” She looked warily at him. “If that’s alright?”

Paul sighed deeply. “It will be fine,” he said and really hoped that he was right.

Something Hidden

Paul winced as his Ford Focus bounced over the rugged lane that led to the cottage. It was already dark and the road was terrifying. “I may need to get a new car.”

“I’ll give it a good clean later,” Liz said. “It’ll be better then.”

“I don’t want you to feel you need to do that,” Paul said, out of his depth. “I mean, I’m not paying you that much. Besides, I think if I’m staying here for a while, I need a car that’s a bit more…” he searched for the word. “I think I need something more suited to these roads.”

“You couldn’t do the shopping in a tractor, if that’s what you’re thinking of,” Liz said. “And I bet it’s tricky in winter. I don’t suppose that there’s a rush, though. The farm shops around here seem decent for fresh stuff and the supplies we picked up today should last a while.”

Paul thought of the stuffed boot and the overfilled bags spilling over the back seat. “I would hope so,” he said.

“I could do with some more rags,” Liz said thoughtfully. “I’ll have to have a trip to a charity shop to see what they have to cut up. Do they have jumble sales in this forsaken wilderness?”

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “I’ve not been here that long.”

Liz sniffed. “I’ll ask at the shop. And there’s plenty of soup ready for your guest as well. I put it on before we went out.”

Paul navigated the awkward turn into the yard and stopped before saying anything. “What guest, what soup, and how did you put it on before we went out?”

Liz climbed out of the car. “That guest there, it’s pea and ham soup that will keep you going with all the work that you’re doing, and I brought a slow cooker with me.” She sniffed again. “He can help bring the things in while I get unpacked and set the table – properly!”

Paul frowned as he climbed out. Theo was hanging onto the wall at the front, almost invisible in the dark. He looked scruffier than ever. “He’s not my friend and I didn’t ask him to come,” he said.

Liz looked at Paul, gave Theo a long hard stare and tutted. “You can’t leave him there. He makes the front look untidy. And he may as well be useful. Besides, he looks like he could do with a square meal.”

Before Paul could answer, Liz had taken the first of the bags and marched in through the front door. He braced himself and went over to Theo. “Hi, mate, are you okay?”

Theo looked at him with bleary eyes. “I’m a damned fool.”

Paul was tempted to agree. The man looked drunk and it was barely 8pm. “What’s the matter?”

“I can’t find him anywhere,” Theo said. “I know that he’s near here, but I can’t quite find it.”

“Who is?” Paul asked.

“The vampire,” Theo said. “There’s a vampire around here.”

Paul thought of the locked room full of notes that he was slowly reducing to order. Vampires didn’t even cover a tithe of it. “There’s no such thing as vampires. Listen, why don’t you give me a hand with the bags. Liz said that you can stay for dinner.”

Theo looked wistfully at the cottage. “I usually don’t bother much. I have a sandwich or pizza most nights.”

“It’s homemade soup,” Paul said. “Give me a hand with the bags. I think Liz bought half the supermarket.” He walked back to the car.

Theo walked after him, staggering only a little and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder. “There really is a vampire, you know. I’ve got an old book back at the cottage. Someone wrote it, years ago. There’s a vampire in the hills near Darke Manor. I want to find them.”

Paul’s mind whirled. He handed Paul two shopping bags. “Why?”

“Hm?” Theo hefted the bags and swayed just a little.

“Why do you want to find a vampire?” Paul picked up a couple of bags and headed to the door.

“Want to find one to become one,” Theo said earnestly. “I want to know the secrets. I want to find everything out.”

It took all of Paul’s composure and self-control not to pause. The last thing he needed was Theo finding out about the paper room. He could never allow him to roam around the house. “Okay, let’s say that the vampire is real. What about all the blood? And how will you convince them? I mean, what if they just drain you?”

“I’ve got some charms,” Theo said. “I’ve done all the research.” He strode into the cottage where Liz was waiting in the hall.

“Leave the bags here for me to unpack while you get the next lot,” she said. “I’ve got the kettle on, and I’ve stoked up the fire in the kitchen. If you get the rest of the shopping in and wash your hands, dinner should be nearly ready.”

Theo gave her a charming smile. “Something smells absolutely amazing,” he said. “I’ll get the rest of the bags in a jiffy.”

Paul watched him go out and then turned to look at Liz who was blushing. “Are you alright?”

“I’m just a little warm from rushing around,” she snapped. “Could you bring the rest of the shopping in, please, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”

“Right away,” Paul said, watching her bustle back into the kitchen. He hesitated for a moment before he followed Theo. He was fairly sure that at least two vampires were currently active locally, though he wasn’t sure who they were, and he was confident that they were happily feeding from the local cows. He had to stick with Theo and act like an unknowing side kick. If Theo poked his nose in the wrong places, it could get bad, because it seemed obvious that Theo hadn’t done all research at all. Besides, there was that piece of paper he had found tucked at the back of one of the diaries. It had been crumbling and he had copied it before the fragment disintegrated in his hands. There was another vampire somewhere, one that had retreated to sleep. Paul had the feeling that perhaps it was best that the vampire was undisturbed. If that meant following Theo around and sabotaging him, so be it.

Unwelcome Instructions

Mike was head of the local werewolf pack, and not easily intimidated. He still stayed close to Richard, the senior of the two local vampires as they stepped into Lord Henry’s domain. The tunnel was dark compared to the daylight on the moors above, and the air was heavy and thick compared to the sharp wind they had left behind when they entered Fairyland. “This place smells dead,” Mike said.

Richard nodded. “I don’t have your senses, but there’s not much life down here.” He looked around. “I’ve been in other domains with marble stairs and fine tapestries. This is…”

Mike aimed his torch down at the rough floor of the tunnel, then flashed it around. “It’s like an old mine. It never used to be like this,” he said. “I remember it being like a Tudor house.

Richard aimed his own torch around and nodded. “I first saw it as a Norman keep, but now it’s more like the caves south of here, in the Peak District.”

“It’s a large domain.” A voice floated out of the darkness. “It stretches from Skipton in the north down to Ashbourne in the south, with Leeds and Sheffield to the east and Manchester in the west. It’s the wild spine, or it was. And, as ever, my court reflects all of my domain as well as my mind. Come closer.”

Richard and Mike exchanged looks and headed towards the voice. The tunnel wound slowly round and opened into a dimly lit cavern. It was wide and rough walled, with wooden benches gathered around a fire pit that sent smoke and sparks up into the darkness. Tapers were wedged in cracks in the rock and gave a little light and added to the dancing shadows. Lord Henry sat facing the entrance, looking thin and stooped. A few gaunt looking elfen lounged around the fire and a goblin tended a spit at the side where some rabbits were turning. The werewolf and vampire bowed respectfully. Richard straightened and forced a calm expression. “Good day, my lord.”

Lord Henry sighed deeply and waved a languid hand. In the shadowed cavern, the cloth of his coat shimmered between a Regency coat and a medieval cloak. “Greetings. Sit and be welcome. You may eat and drink freely here without fear or favour.” He smiled thinly at Richard. “That is, if there is anything here that you would eat.”

“I am grateful for the kind thought,” Richard said smoothly.

Lord Henry looked Mike up and down. “No doubt your puppy would like some bones?” He laughed at Mike’s suddenly fixed expression. “I jest only.” He sighed heavily and waved towards the logs. “Please sit with me and my last few counsellors.”

Richard and Mike took seats and looked at the hopeless expressions of the elfen around them. “You summoned us, my lord,” said Richard. “How may we aid you?”

“I loathe Halifax,” Lord Henry said. “Our kind, the waifs and strays of our shadow world…” He glanced at Mike’s rigid features. “No offence, Michael Dixon, no offence. But as I was saying, I put a ward around Halifax so that our kind would be deterred from visiting. They would find it easy to leave, but hard to enter.” There was a long pause as Lord Henry stared at the fire, lost in thought, before he shook himself and continued. “The ward should be removed. It has no place in these modern days. Alas, I have misremembered my magic and I cannot think how to remove it.”

“I have some skill in magic,” Richard said respectfully. “It will be my pleasure to remove that ward.”

Lord Henry nodded. “I know, Richard Dark, I know. Removing it can be your first act when you take over as Prince, at All Hallows Eve. That is but half a moon away, is it not?”

“Er…” Richard stared at him in horror.

“It is not conventional to have a vampiric prince, but I believe that it worked well in Huddersfield, with whatever he is calling himself now. And I am fading. None of my counsellors have the power to take control, so it must be you. I am sure that you will make an excellent prince as I return to the earth.”

“Er…” Richard scrabbled for words.

“Take the counsellors with you, to that manor of yours, and they will instruct you in everything necessary. Gareth here will remain here until Samhain.” Lord Henry waved a thin hand at the despondent goblin turning the spit. “Return here then and I will hand over the power. That is all.”

Mike looked at Richard’s shocked face and grabbed his friend’s arm, urging him to his feet. They bowed stiffly to Lord Henry and then Mike dragged Richard back down the tunnel, aware of the elfen trailing behind them. “I told you that you could be a Prince,” he murmured to Richard.

Richard looked at Mike, his face paler than ever. “And what the hell am I going to tell Carol?”


“Thank you for bringing down the apples,” Liz said, handing a cup of tea to Carol. “I’ll put some up for pie filling this evening.”

Carol looked around the immaculate kitchen of the cottage. “You’ve managed a great shine in here. I don’t know how you found the energy.”

“I like to keep busy,” Liz said. She looked shyly at Carol. “I don’t suppose you know of anyone that would like a cleaner, you know, a few hours here and there? I could use the money.”

“I could at the moment!” Carol said. “The house is full of weird people who make a mess. It’s a big house that needs a lot of keeping up as it is. Normally I decorate the house for Halloween, but I haven’t been able to turn around. If they’re not raiding the kitchen, they’re rummaging in cupboards or tracking in dirt – and I never know what I’m going to find in the living room the next morning! The dirty dishes keep piling up, and the laundry is getting beyond me. Any help would be amazing. I’ll sort out the wages with Richard, but I’m sure that he’ll be generous. He knows what I’m suffering. I keep looking up and finding one of them standing over me and just staring sorrowfully at me. And eat! I can’t seem to cook enough.”

“I can cook some stuff down here and bring it up,” offered Liz. “I could make a few dozen cupcakes and biscuits, and perhaps a fruit cake. That will fill them up.”

“Nothing fills them up,” Carol said bitterly. “I’ll bring some ingredients down – don’t argue! I’ve bought in bulk, so it may as well get used up here as well as at Darke Manor. I’ll have a word with Richard…” She trailed off as the front door slammed.

“Paul went out with Theo,” Liz whispered. “It sounds like they got a little lost.”

Carol winced as she heard Paul bellowing. “What do you mean, you hadn’t used a map like that? I thought you said you could read a map.”

Theo was quieter but entirely fed up. “It’s obvious. You look at a map, you see where things are, you follow the directions. It’s not hard.”

“But we still got lost!" Paul yelled, throwing open the door to the kitchen as he turned to look at Theo behind him. “And you didn’t recognise the warning for damp ground.” He pulled his muddy t-shirt off, liberally smearing dirt over his back. “Liz is going to have a fit trying to wash this.”

“All the moor is damp ground,” Theo argued as he trailed into the kitchen. “That’s what the moor is. It’s full of peat and bogs.”

Paul turned around to see Carol sitting with Liz in the kitchen. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that Liz had someone here.”

Carol allowed herself to enjoy the sight of Paul without a shirt. The hours of working out and clean eating had paid off. He looked amazing. He also looked muddy. “What happened?” She tore her eyes away from him to glance at Theo who was equally muddy, though nowhere near as well built.

Liz jumped to her feet, turning her eyes away from Paul and blushing wildly. “I’ll get a couple of dressing gowns. If you get changed, I can get the clothes washed and dried.” She fled from the kitchen.

Paul looked coolly back at Carol. “There is supposed to be an ancient monument on the moors,” he said. “We were looking for it.”

Theo looked nervously at Paul’s broad back. “There’s supposed to be a stone circle, but we couldn’t find it.”

“We’ll have to spend some more time with the maps before we try again,” Paul said. “What a way to spend a Saturday.”

“But it’s bound to be…” Theo hesitated under Carol’s interested stare. “It’s very historical.”

Liz scurried back, her face turned carefully away from Paul’s bare chest. “I’ve brought down your bathrobe,” she said, pushing the plain black robe at Paul. “And I found this at the back of the cupboard.” She pushed a faded hotel bathrobe at Theo. “If you get undressed I’ll get the clothes washed and dried, and I’ll make something to eat.”

Theo’s face lit up. “Really?”

Liz smiled. “I’ve got a casserole ready to go, and an apple crumble.”

“You are a star!” Theo said.

“You can have the downstairs shower room,” Paul said. “I’ll take a shower upstairs.” He pushed Theo out of the kitchen.

Liz and Carol looked at the mud tracked through. Liz shrugged. “I may as well wait until it’s dry and then brush it out,” she said. “The carpet is worn to a thread, so I don’t want to try scrubbing.” She pulled a casserole from the fridge and slid it into the oven. “Will you stay for dinner?”

Carol shook her head. “I’ve got to feed the crowd up at Darke Manor,” she said.

The kitchen door opened and Richard strode in. “Carol, I’ve been thinking.”

“I hope you’re thinking of giving me a pay rise and paying Liz here to help me in the house,” Carol said. “It’s bedlam.”

Richard looked at Liz. “Are you willing to come as an assistant and a day worker?” he asked. “Obviously I’ll pay a decent rate, but it would probably only be two or three times a week once things have settled down.”

“I hope that I can give satisfaction,” Liz said.

“That’s sorted then. Ask Carol about hours, log your time and let me have the bill. Where’s Paul?” Richard looked around, but his mind was obviously elsewhere.

“He and Theo are in separate showers,” Carol said. “They got lost on the moor.”

“They’re lucky that they got home safe,” Richard said. “It can be tricky up there. Excuse me, I want to check something.”

Carol watched him wander down to the paper room and take a quick look around before unlocking the door and going in. “Well, that was easier than I thought,” she said. “If you could come in Monday morning, we’ll take it from there.”

Liz pulled out a bowl and a bag of flour before getting butter from the fridge. “Perhaps we could meet tomorrow afternoon, after church, and make some lists,” she suggested.

Carol watched Liz as she quickly brought together an apple crumble, rich with spices and full of flavourful promise. “That’s a great idea. But perhaps down here, as it gets complicated up at the manor.” She watched Richard come out of the paper room, carefully locking the door behind him. His face looked a little paler than usual.

“Carol, I think you should stay down here from tonight,” Richard said.

“What?” Carol stared at him.

Richard tapped the small, leather-bound book in his hand absentmindedly and looked around. “I think you should stay down here. I think it will be less stressful for you. I’ll help you pack some clothes. I’m sure that Liz will be glad of the company.”

“But this is Paul’s home,” Carol said. “I can’t just invite myself here.”

“I think you really should,” Richard said, frowning. “Paul will be happy to have you. It will be a lot better, just for a very short while.”

“What’s happened?” Carol asked.

“It’s complicated,” Richard said. “Just worry about the housekeeping.” He turned to Liz. “If you are looking for extra work, Mike can always use an extra paw. He has some bed and breakfast places over near Haworth and he is always glad of reliable staff.”

“Extra paw?” Liz said.

“Yes, it’s a very stable werewolf pack. I know brownies aren’t exactly comfortable with werewolves, but Mike is a good leader and I know that he’s desperate for the help. He’ll pay well, of course, and make sure that you’re safe.”

Liz went white. “I’m not called Brown. I’m called Liz Green, I mean Queen, I mean…” She stared at Richard for a long minute and then fled the kitchen.

Carol picked up the crumble mixture and spread it over the apple base. “She’s a brownie? Well, that makes sense. She is an incredible housekeeper.”

Richard frowned. “I didn’t think that she’d take it like that,” he said. “Perhaps you should have a word.”

“Are you serious about me staying here?” Carol asked.

Richard nodded. “I’ll need to explain a lot to you later, but I’m short of time right now. I’ll pick you up in an hour and you can get packed.” He caught hold of Carol’s arm. “And until I say otherwise, don’t go out after dark. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t be alone outside. And always, always carry your phone and call me at the first hint of trouble.” He tapped the leather bound book again. “Things are getting complicated.”

More Questions

Richard looked around. Even with his vampire’s night vision, there wasn’t much to see on the moors. Everything was asleep. He turned to his old friend and fellow vampire, Nathan. “The lair could be anywhere.”

Nathan nodded. “I can feel it around, but I can’t get a fix. They knew their magic alright.”

“I may have to speak to Steve Adderson,” Richard said. “But I don’t want to be indebted to him. He’s a little too powerful and it could be a way of York or Leeds getting influence here. But the magic is beyond me.”

Nathan nodded. “There may be something in the papers,” he said. “How is the clerk doing?”

Richard scanned the moors again. “He’s doing well. It’s surprising how much I can find.” He could see the faint glow of the lights from Halifax in the east and it wasn’t helping. “After all, I found the details of…” he hesitated. “The potential challenger.”

“You can say their name, you know,” Nathan said. “They’re not Lord Voldemort.” He looked into the darkness. “We might as well go home and work something out in comfort. It’s going to rain soon. And you can’t just hand over the role to them, no matter how tempted you are. You remember what they were like and the fight they had with Lord Henry – and why they had it.”

“This is not what I had planned,” Richard grumbled. “I’m busy writing my novel. And I’ve got a lot of commissions. Remote working has generated plenty of IT glitches and I’m rushed off my feet.”

Nathan looked at his old friend. “But you’ll do your duty, won’t you,” he said.

Richard turned his collar up as the first drops of rain landed icily on his neck and avoided the question. “I’ll introduce you to Paul and let him know you can have free reign of the paper room. If you have a look there for anything that can help, I’ll speak to Mike about bringing Ian Tait over.”

“You can’t ask Ian!” Nathan said. “Don’t you remember, the man summoned a demon – accidentally!”

“That’s better than deliberately,” Richard said. “And it was my house that was affected. I remember it well. So does Carol, and I worry about her.” He turned and started trudging downhill towards his house. “But Ian knows magic, and we need all the help we can get. It was bad enough getting rid of the enchantment on Halifax. It had been there so long, it had grown roots. I’ll have to keep checking back to make sure that nothing else has come up.”

Nathan followed him. “At least you’re keeping Carol safe,” he said. “I just hope that the clerk knows to behave himself.”

Paul pushed his breakfast plate away from him. He felt stuffed. “That was amazing, Liz. Can I help with the washing up?”

“No, it’s fine,” Liz said. “I have it all under control.”

Paul wished he understood more about brownies. He’d been combing through the books in the paper room but had found very little. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

“You are paying me a good wage, and food and board,” Liz said firmly. “And I get a lot of time to myself. Now I’ve got the house clean and some sort of routine, it takes no time at all to keep the place in a decent state. I was wondering, do you think Mr Dark would mind if I made new curtains. I was talking with Carol, and the ones hanging here are in rags. There are some good fabric shops in Halifax.”

“I’ll ask him when I see him,” Paul said.

Liz meticulously straightened the draining board. “Do you know if Mr McGuire will be coming to dinner. I just want to make sure I make enough, no other reason.”

Paul nodded, his mind drifting to his main concern. “We’re talking about some places on the moors that we want to check out,” he said. “I can’t really do much until the weekend, but we want to plan our route. And Carol will be here, of course, so you’ll have a big meal to make.”

Liz sniffed. “A meal for four isn’t that big,” she said. “When the old man had company round we could sometimes do a fancy meal for twenty, plus our dinner, plus planning all the leftovers and get the dining room set up all nice.” She sighed nostalgically. “Perhaps we could open up the dining room. It wouldn’t take much to serve in there, and I’ve got it cleaned out.”

“It’s warmer in the kitchen,” Paul said. There was a part of him that knew brownies revelled in their housekeeping, but the fuss was starting to get on his nerves. “Listen, I can’t really get away today. Richard texted me and let me know that he would be bringing a friend after lunch. But why don’t I ask Theo to come over after lunch to walk you to the shops? I know Richard doesn’t want Carol going anywhere by herself, and I don’t want you taking any risks.”

Liz blushed. “If Mr McGuire wouldn’t mind,” she said.

“I know he’s busy in his workshop in the morning,” Paul said, “But I’m sure he’d be fine to come after lunch.”

“He can come for lunch,” Liz announced. I’ll make something nice for both of you. And a workshop – what does he do?”

Paul remembered that brownies had an apparent relentless pursuit of crafts. “He makes jewellery and stuff – not gold but iron and leather and that sort of thing. He showed me some and it looked nice enough I suppose. I’m sure that he’ll show you if you like.”

Liz sighed happily. “I’d love to see a nice workshop. And I suppose he wouldn’t mind me giving it a quick dust.” A shadow passed across her face. “I know Mr Dark is being particular about Carol staying here and not going anywhere after sunset,” she said. “And I think that there’s bad things going on.”

Paul thought of the stacks of paper he had been wading through. “There are always stories about wild places, and I’m sure that Richard is just being a bit cautious with his new guests.”

Liz took a deep breath. “Mr Dixon is a werewolf.”

What!” Paul said.

Liz nodded nervously, twisting her apron between her fingers. “Mr Dark told me. He said that Mr Dixon was head of a pack, but he was okay and that he could use a paw around his Bed and Breakfast places.” She flushed with embarrassment. “And he recognised that I was a brownie. I was so mortified.”

Paul thought for a moment. “Why? Anyway, don’t you know werewolves and vampires and that?”

Liz shook her head. “It was a bit odd, in Halifax, as there weren’t many of our type. My family were the only brownies we knew. There were a few ghosts down at the Piece Hall that would pass the time of day, and a family of goblins down by the Minster – but we didn’t really speak.”

“That’s it?” Paul asked, thinking of the lists in the paper room.

“My mum used to take soup to an elderly boggart down by the Borough Market,” Liz said. “But she died years ago. Mum said something about an enchantment, but I wasn’t really paying attention.” She looked embarrassed. “You probably know more about werewolves than I do.”

Paul frowned as he watched Liz pour him another cup of tea. “Mike Dixon seems a decent bloke,” he said. “And Richard seems to think he wouldn’t be a threat to you.” He took the tea gratefully. “I mean, if he was a ravening monster, he wouldn’t be running a building firm.” Paul thought about some of the builders he had known. “At least, not one like his. Besides, people know where you are, and I’m sure that werewolves wouldn’t want anyone asking questions. What does Carol think?”

“I haven’t said anything,” Liz said. “But she seems to like Mike. She was telling him off the other day because he didn’t wipe his feet.”

“So he’s probably fine,” Paul said. “But I think you shouldn’t be out after dark or alone, just like Carol. I’ll give Theo a ring.”

Paul finally got into the paper room and carefully locked the door behind him. Mike may be a werewolf, but Paul felt that the man could still be trusted. There was something solid about him, something reliable. According to the notes, the Dixon family had been builders and innkeepers in the area for centuries. Paul suspected that Richard was some sort of creature, though he wasn’t sure what. Paul pulled out his own personal set of notes. Richard and Mike weren’t the problem, as far as he could see. But Liz was right. There was something bad on the horizon. He could feel it in his meditations and scrying. Paul riffled through his notebook. What could he do? The notebooks referred to someone called a paladin, someone who championed the humans like him. Paul closed his notebook, switched on his computer and took a breath. He needed to find the paladin. They would be able to tell him what to do.

Unexpected Visit

“You can’t keep breaking into people’s houses to clean!” Paul said. He rubbed a weary hand over his face. This was not what he wanted to deal with straight after breakfast.

“Why not?” Liz asked, putting the last of the breakfast dishes away. “It’s not like I took anything, not even a cup of tea. And the Bible says that a labourer is worth of their hire.”

“But you weren’t hired!” Paul said. “And people feel uncomfortable, that there could be someone breaking in at any time. They can’t sleep. And they feel judged.”

Liz sniffed. “I’m not surprised that they feel judged,” she said. “I would if I had left the kitchen in that state. The oven was like a midden. And as for the state of the fridge…”

Paul held up a hand. “You cannot keep going into other people’s houses and cleaning without their permission,” he snapped. “Just don’t.” He narrowed his eyes. “What’s that in the shopping bag?”

Liz lifted her chin. “Just a few rags and some of my home made cleaning spray. I’m going down to see Mr McGuire and he doesn’t mind if I have a bit of a wipe around in his workshop. He says he appreciates my efforts and will take me out to dinner.”

Paul frowned. “Be careful,” he said. “You know that Richard isn’t letting Carol go anywhere on her own. Do you want me to walk you down?”

Liz picked up her jacket and shrugged into it, fastening it defiantly and checking the lay of the lapels and the set of her scarf before replying. “I’ll be fine. I have hidden depths, Mr Kidson. I’m sure that I will be quite safe. Besides, it’s only down the lane and barely after breakfast. What could possibly happen?”

Paul watched Liz through the window as she marched down the lane and across the short cut to the cottage where Theo was staying. Then he picked up his cup of coffee and unlocked the paper room. Richard had thought that it could take a year to sort through the piles of paper in here, but that was an underestimate. He set the coffee down and locked the door behind him before switching on the small radiator. There was enough material here to keep a proper archivist busy for years let alone an amateur like him.

He sat down at the desk. It was looking better, though. There were still the heaps of letters and reports of various types, but the notebooks now had a sort of order and there were clear spots on the floor. He had even found a protective circle inked into the fraying matting. There was still no trace of the paladin, though.

Paul switched on the computer and stared blankly as it booted up. He knew that Liz was a brownie and that Mike was a werewolf and possibly head of a pack. He was fairly sure that Richard was one of the vampires from the notebook. Nathan was possibly a vampire as well, but he couldn’t be sure. Carol seemed to just about the same as him, a regular human. But he could feel something moving in the ether, something on the psychic plane was stirring. Unfortunately whatever it was had disturbed all of Paul’s attempts at scrying. He was no expert at scrying at the best of times, and the feedback he got when he tried was giving him headaches.

Theo wasn’t the paladin, Paul was sure. With the best will in the world, Theo wasn’t the calibre of the men that Paul found in the notebooks and papers. He was a good man, but he liked a drink a little too much and he got carried away. And who in their right mind wanted to be a vampire? Paul couldn’t see the attraction. Theo may want to be involved in all the strange things that the notebooks recorded, but show him a missing sheep and some suspicious paw prints, and Theo would be loading up with silver bullets instead of remembering that the important point was that a sheep was missing. He would never think of asking who was selling cheap leg of mutton in the pub last weekend.

But he needed to find that paladin. He kept finding hints and clues that something dreadful was hiding up on the moors. He needed help looking through the papers to find more information. He needed to know that Carol and Liz, and even Theo, would be safe. He realised that his phone was ringing.

“Hello, Liz,” he said as he picked up. “Is everything alright?”

“Mr Kidson, please will you let Mr Dark know that there is a werewolf here and not in a nice way,” Liz said, panic vibrating through her formal language. “I mean, I managed to get out of the way, like a good brownie, but it has Mr McGuire trapped behind his silver press and there’s something else there, but I’m too scared to look.” Her voice broke.

“I’ll let him know and I’ll be right down,” Paul said, unlocking the door as he spoke and locking it behind him. “Stay hidden and don’t panic.”

“But Mr Kidson…” Liz whispered, but Paul hung up. He grabbed thick gloves and a scarf from the rack in the hall and picked up a stout, silver topped walking stick. He slammed the door after him and rang Richard.

“Richard, it’s Paul. There’s a werewolf acting aggressively at Theo McGuire’s cottage. I thought you needed to know. Theo and Liz are trapped there.”

There was a brief hesitation. “I’ll be right there,” Richard said. “Don’t engage. Keep back.”

Paul hung up and started running.

He didn’t try to be quiet as he ran up. He could hear growling and snarling, and the best way to save Liz and Theo was to distract whatever was making that noise. “I’m coming!”

Richard passed him, running far faster than most mortals, and hurtled into the shed that was acting as Theo’s workshop. Paul followed him, straining his ears for any clue about what was there.

“I want the notebook,” Paul heard a husky voice demand as Richard reached the shed door. “And I know that you have it.”

“You!” Richard yelled, and dived in.

Paul was a long minute after. He raced into the brightly lit shed and took in the scene. In one corner there was something going on, something magical, where Richard and a presence were tangled in an arcane battle. More pressing for Paul was the huge, scrawny werewolf growling at Theo who was trapped behind the silver press. It took Paul two steps to get within reach of the creature and then he swung the walking stick – hard. The silver knob at the end hissed as it sank deep into the side of the werewolf, who howled and then turned, snarling.

“Paul, get back!” Theo yelled. “It’s not normal.”

Paul ignored him, spinning the stick around in his hand and using the momentum to hit the werewolf hard on the side of its head. It howled and staggered, fading and flowing into a skinny, naked man who rolled, groaning to his feet, a livid burn on his face.

“You are going to regret that, meat,” the werewolf snarled, swinging hard at Paul’s head. “I’m going to eat you slow.”

Paul didn’t waste time on talking. Instead he ducked under the man’s punch and punched back – hard. The man reeled back, surprised. Paul followed up with a swift kick in the ribs, and another, dancing around him and forcing the werewolf back, away from Theo and back toward the door. The werewolf shook his head and staggered a few feet backwards before snarling and bounding back towards Paul. Paul met him with a roundhouse punch, neatly placed under the creature’s chin. The creature fell back, his eyes out of focus.

Paul risked a glance behind him. There was still a magical tangle behind him, but it looked like Richard was getting the worst of it. He turned back to the werewolf who was coming back to its senses and glaring at Paul.

“I’m going to eat your beating heart,” it growled.

Paul let the words wash over him as he tried to get the measure of the creature. He feinted a high punch and then, as the werewolf raised its hands, stamped hard on its knee. There was a sickening crunch and the creature folded to the floor, snarling and flowing back into the shape of a lame wolf, snapping wildly.

Paul took a step back. “Are you hurt, Theo?”

“No, it didn’t bite me. What are you doing, man?” Theo sounded panicked. “And where’s Liz?” He staggered out from the press. “I need to find Liz.”

“I’m here,” Liz stepped out of a shadow and ran to Theo who held her tight.

Paul tossed the cane to Theo. “If it moves, hit it with the silver end,” he said. He didn’t wait to see Theo’s reaction. Instead he spun around towards the magical battle in the corner.

He was too late. Richard was pinned against the wall by magical forces. The gaunt shape of his opponent twisted, folded and disappeared with a sharp crack. Paul swore and, ignoring the snarling behind him, ran over.

“It’s magical,” Richard said. “We’ll need to get help. I could do it but I’m stuck on the inside of the damn charm.” He grimaced and his fangs showed. “I’m sorry that you got caught up with this. But I promise, I’m harmless, and so is Mike. He’ll be coming to take care of the puppy over there.” Richard gasped in pain as the magical bonds contracted. “You need to get hold of Ian Tait. Tell Mike when he gets here if I can’t.” He stopped and then swore loudly.

Paul studied the bonds. “You don’t have much time,” he said. “Hang on…” He frowned as Richard gritted his teeth against the shrinking bonds. “Theo, do you have white chalk? Or something that writes white?”

“It’s over in the cabinet in the corner,” Theo said, keeping an eye on the werewolf writhing in front of him. “Liz can get it.”

Paul didn’t take his eyes from the bonds contracting around Richard as he was held against the unpainted brick. “I’ve got this,” he said. He felt the whiteliner pushed into his hands and, muttering a quick thanks, stepped forward. He kept clear of the magical field itself as he carefully inked in the glyphs. “This magic seems about as dark as it gets,” he said as he inked in another glyph. “If you’re a vampire, it may sting a little when my spell activates, but it should free you.”

Richard grunted as the magical bonds cut deeper into him. “I can hear Mike coming,” he forced out. “You can wait.”

“You can’t,” Paul said calmly. He inked the last glyph, centred himself, muttered a few more words and there was a flash. Richard howled, then fell to his knees as he was released from the bonds, scorched but free.

Mike skidded into the shop with two large wolf like shapes bounding next to him. “What the hell!”

Richard pulled himself to his feet, the marks slowly fading as his vampiric healing kicked in. He looked gaunt and wracked with pain, though, as he stood and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said to Paul. He looked around the workshop. Scorch marks stained the walls and craft supplies were widely scattered. Liz was wide eyed and tearful and Theo looked deeply shocked. Paul stood, still calm and poised, watching Richard warily. There was a moment of silence as everyone caught their breath.

Richard broke it. “Mike, take the stray and deal with it. Theo, my apologies that you were so inconvenienced. We will speak later. Liz, we need to speak later but for now I request that you clean this workshop. Paul, my deepest thanks. Please come with me to Dark Manor to talk.” Richard smiled faintly. “You will  be quite safe.”

“Yes,” Paul said steadily, “I will.”

An Honest Conversation

The rain had set in, and Paul was drenched from the brief walk from the cottage to Darke Manor. Carol answered the door and managed a strained smile when she saw him.

“Richard is in the study,” she said. “If you go in, I’ll bring in a tray of tea.” She took in the water dripping from Paul’s coat. “And I’ll bring some towels as well. You can leave the coat over there.” She gestured to a rack and looked back at him. “In fact, leave your shoes there as well.”

Paul smiled. “I’ll try not to drip on your clean carpets.” He grew sombre. “How is Richard?”

Carol paused. “He’s quiet,” she said eventually. “But I think he’s okay. He’ll be glad to see you.”

Paul took the hint and headed to Richard’s study. It seemed a long time since he had been interviewed there for the job to sort through the papers. Today had changed everything, though. He had seen Richard’s vampiric fangs. He had seen Mike and his pack drag a stray werewolf away and he had seen Richard come second in a magical battle. There was nowhere left to hide. He knocked on the study door.

“Come in,” Richard called, his voice measured and controlled.

Paul stepped into the study and closed the door behind him. It was warm, with an old fashioned open fire flickering in the grate. Lamps around the room shed soft light and there was a scent of cinnamon and smoke in the air. Richard was staring out of the window at the dark moors. Rain lashed against the window and the security lights outside Theo’s cottage could faintly been seen in the distance. Paul waited for a moment but Richard didn’t speak. “How are you?” Paul asked eventually.

Richard turned. “I’m well,” he said. He forced a smile. “And you are quite safe, I promise you.”

“I know,” Paul said.

“Take a seat,” Richard waved Paul into one of the leather armchairs by the fire, stepping around his desk to take the other chair across the hearth. “And thank you for coming on such a dismal night. I’m sure Carol will be bringing towels.”

Paul smiled. “She takes things like that seriously,” he said. “But her housekeeping isn’t why I’m here.”

“No,” Richard said. “You know that I’m a vampire. What are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” Paul said. “Except keep working on the papers and drawing my pay.”

The men paused as Carol bustled in. “Here’s the towels. I’ll be in with some tea in a moment.” She set a small bundle of towels on the arm of Paul’s chair before bustling out again.

Richard watched Paul pick up a small towel and rub it over his dark, cropped hair. “What would you say if I asked you to take your shirt off?”

Paul finished rubbing the water from his hair and deliberately folded the towel before answering. “You would be looking for a paladin’s mark. You won’t find it. I know magic. According to all that I have read so far, paladins can’t use magic.”

“It’s not unknown,” Richard said. “It’s not ideal, but a few paladins and Knights Templar have had gifts of that sort. Whoever or whatever sends the paladins, they send what is needed. You saw the magic today.”

Paul rubbed a fresh towel over his face. “Why me? I’m far from holy, and I’ve never been in the army or police force.”

Richard shrugged. “We should check. There are two ways. There is the mark – the sword on your shoulder. Or we could take you over to Oxenhope. There’s a corner in a churchyard that is considered most holy. If you stand on that, you’ll shine.”

“I’ve read a lot of the notebooks,” Paul said. “The paladins here were good men. I’m not sure where I fit in. But I’ll take my shirt off, if it makes you happy.”

“I don’t know if it will make me happy,” Richard said. “I’ve never been interested in men without shirts. But I need to know.”

Paul looked at him for a long time. “Because of what happened today?”

“Because something is happening here,” Richard said. “There are reports of sheep being savaged, but no signs of any dogs. There are children who are looking ‘sickly’ or ‘under the weather’ for no reason that a doctor can find. I can lead such non-normals that live locally against this force, but I need a paladin. I need to know.”

Paul stood. The rain had pounded through his jacket and soaked through his clothes to the skin underneath. He looked Richard straight in the eye as he unbuttoned the shirt and hung it over the back of the office chair at the desk. “Don’t play games, Mr Dark.”

“I don’t think I would dare,” Richard stood and came closer. “I saw how you reacted this morning. Turn your back.”

Paul gave him a long look and then turned. “I’ve never had a tattoo,” he said. “I spent too much time in foster homes to want to waste my money.”

Richard studied Paul’s well muscled back as it gleamed damply in the firelight. “You work out,” he observed. “Pass me your phone.”

“I keep myself in shape,” Paul said.

Richard took a picture of Paul’s upper shoulder. “You work out, obviously, and you know how to fight. You don’t flinch at werewolves and vampires and you know magic. Not bad for someone who’s just become a paladin.” Richard handed back the phone, the picture of the sword crudely etched on Paul’s shoulder was clear. “Why?”

Paul took the phone back and looked for a long time at the image. “I should be doing all the checks, and I know that you have a knack with technology, but I think I’ll accept my fate, at least for now.” He picked up another towel and started rubbing the cold rain from his torso. “What are you asking?”

“There are remarkably few men that can not only kick a werewolf into submission but that can also disarm a complicated trap spell.” Richard said. “It must have been an interesting journey to get here.”

The door opened with Carol, who froze at the wonderful view she had of Paul. She opened and shut her mouth a few times before putting the tea tray down on a side table. “You look like you are soaked to the bone,” she croaked. She cleared her throat, blushing. “I’ll go and get a spare dressing gown and I’ll dry your clothes for you.” She fled.

Paul looked at the closed door for a moment before looking back at Richard. “My parents were killed by a rogue boggart. I had an interesting few years until I stopped talking about what I had seen and started training to be what I am now. I had never, ever seen anything like the papers in the cottage down there, but it confirmed my experiences. It was something of a relief.” He watched Richard pour tea for him. “But what now? I can’t pretend I understand all of what is in those documents, but I’ve seen references to the Knights Templar and Princes…” Paul paused and stared into the fire for a moment. “I feel that I am suddenly in the middle of things that I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

There was a loud knock on the door followed by a pause. Richard shook his head and went to the door. “It’s okay, Carol, Paul is decent. We have a lot to discuss, so any damp clothing will be left outside the door in about five minutes.” He took a dressing gown from Carol, who was still blushing, and shut the door again. He tossed it over to Paul. “It’s complicated. Get changed. I’ll have a quick word with Carol and be back in around five minutes.”

Ten minutes later, Richard and Paul were seated comfortably at the fireside. Paul was relaxed in the dressing gown and glad to be warm. Richard was warier and drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. “I suppose I had better give you a quick run down,” Richard said. “You know, obviously that non-normals, like myself and Mike, exist. And you have learned about paladins. There are plenty of references to them in the papers. I’ll get in touch with the Knights Templar and they can explain their side to you.” Richard managed a grin. “They can pay your wages instead.” He hesitated. “But I’ll pay a premium for the paperwork stuff.”

“There’s a lot of work there,” Paul said. “More than I could have imagined.”

“We’re the forgotten realm, really,” Richard said. “There’s not that many people and it’s been quiet. The Prince, Lord Henry, has faded away for the last few hundred years. He put a ban on Halifax, so there haven’t been many non-normals there. Liz must have been one of the last brownies surviving.” Richard stared into the fire. “Lord Henry has decided that I’m going to take over from him at Halloween, whether I like it or not. The few elfen left have been staying here. They’re in the main living room at the moment, driving Carol scatty.”

“Is she safe?” Paul asked.

Richard pulled his gaze away from the fire. “She’s safe from them, although they are irritating her. They aren’t the risk. The problem is that when Lord Henry goes, someone else wants to be prince.”

Paul took a sip of tea. “You don’t strike me as someone rushing to become a leader.”

“I’ve never wanted that,” Richard said. “Unfortunately, I’m the best choice. I’ve already had to untangle the magic around Halifax, and I’m trying to contact all of the local non-normals who have drifted out of contact, but I’m not the normal choice for a prince. I’m a vampire. Princes are usually elfen – mad, psychotic bastards that will shred anyone in their path. I’m not exactly that type.”

“This Lord Henry chose you for a reason,” Paul said. He helped himself to a home baked biscuit.

“A few hundred years ago, around the time of the last plague, there was a challenger,” Richard said. He frowned. “That would put it in the 1660s, I think, when Charles II had returned. The challenger was a vampire and was vicious. I remember it all too well. I managed to keep myself out of their talons, but they were not exactly house trained. Nathan and I are the only local vampires. We have people who are happy to… They are happy to accommodate us. Some are families that I have fed on for generations. We also top up on some of the local livestock, for appropriate payment. Nathan and I play by the rules. This other vampire, the one that had me pinned this morning, they see normals, like Carol and Theo, as cattle. They are not kind. Lord Henry and the paladin at the time, Charles Goodman, they managed to confine the threat. They didn’t manage to destroy the vampire.” Richard sighed. “No-one had the magic. The whole country had been hit by the Puritans and the witchfinders. We’re not far from Pendle Hill and the infamous witches from there. Anyone who knew any magic kept it well hidden. I am a little more prepared now, and you seem to have useful skills. We may have more of a chance. You see, now Lord Henry is going, there’s going to be another challenge. I need to make an end to it. We need to make an end to it. They can’t hide in the shadows the way that they did all that time ago, not with smart phones and social media.” He looked sharply at Paul. “I’ve heard that Theo wants to be a vampire, although that may have changed after this morning. He isn’t alone. If word gets out about vampires here there will be a queue of idiots with no idea of what they are asking. And then there’ll be the would-be vampire hunters. It will be chaos. We have a quiet community here. We want to keep it that way.”

Paul nodded. “So we need to find this vampire and stake him, right?” he asked. “I mean, what is the catch?”

“There will be magical defences,” Richard said. “There will be magical attacks. And we have no idea where she is.” He stood and started pacing. “She’s incredibly old. They say that she came over with the Romans, though I don’t know about that. She calls herself Black Bridget or Bridget Du. And it is going to take everything we have to stop her.”

A Werewolf Problem

Paul looked frantically at Mike Doyle, the paladin called in to show him the ropes. He had not expected this. “You go left, I’ll go right. We should be able to trap it.”

“Her!” the old werewolf behind him squealed from behind his face mask. “She’s not an ‘it’, she’s a ‘her’ and she’s frightened.”

Mike nodded, sweat dripping down his face. The chase was taking it out of him. “Hang on – are all the exits blocked?”

Paul nodded, equally exhausted. “That’s why we chased it – her! – here,” he said. No other exits, cupboards and windows are locked. There should be no other way out.”

“We thought that upstairs,” Mike said wearily.

“I didn’t think she could move that quick,” Paul said. “But this should be safe. You go left, I’ll go right and we should be able to grab her behind the sofa.” He looked over his shoulder at the werewolf wringing his hands. “It’s okay, Justin. I think we can catch her now.”

“Be gentle, please!” Justin called. “It’s not her fault.”

Paul exchanged a glance with Mike. Both of them were liberally scratched. “Okay, one, two, three, go!”

The two paladins charged around the sofa and in a whirlwind of arms, claws and hisses, Paul finally grabbed her. “Here she is,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the scruff of the cat’s neck.

Justin stared at the cat. “She has been my only true companion for years,” he said, looking piteously at the growling, hissing maniac that was swearing wildly in cat. “You know, I’m the last werewolf in Halifax, or I was, and I was always so careful. I spent so much time alone and Miss Cleo kept me company. She is such a gentle, loving sweetie. But you can find her a good home, can’t you, where they’ll give me updates?”

Paul nodded, exhausted. “But if she is so dear to you, why are you getting rid of her?”

“It’s that dreadful Covid,” Justin said. “I ordered some special masks at the beginning of the dratted affair, but I was too late. Ever since, I have suffered dreadfully from allergies. And I can’t keep on like this.”

Paul looked closer at Justin. The werewolf was looking pale and strained, and his eyes were rimmed red. “Have you tried antihistamines?”

“They don’t work on werewolves,” Justin said sadly. He pulled aside the face mask to blow his reddened nose. “And there isn’t a werewolf specialist around. Now I can speak to others of my kind, perhaps they can help and I can get my beloved Miss Cleo back.”

Mike looked thoughtfully at Justin and then at the pack of masks on the table, half empty. “These look expensive. May I have a look?”

Justin nodded. “But your colleague should wash his hands before he touches them. My skin is so sensitive these days. I seem to break out at the slightest thing, and I can’t risk touching anything with cat hair.”

Mike picked up the masks and examined the packet carefully. “Werewolves can’t get covid,” he said. “A lot of the packs did double duty in hospitals as porters and stuff at the height of the crisis.” He turned the packet over and over and then pulled out his phone. “I need to check something.”

Justin stared. “But look at me! I’m a wreck.” He sank helplessly into a chair. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve cleaned this house, again and again, and I have air purifiers and even essential oils – and that is not fun for a werewolf.”

Paul kept a hold on the spitting ball of fury called Miss Cleo. “You don’t have any family close?” he asked?”

Justin shook his head. “There was only me left, after, well, some unpleasantness. And I am not as young as I was. I was quite a young pup when I lost my parents, so perhaps this is just me getting older. I’m 74, which I believe is a good age for a werewolf.”

Mike flicked through the internet in search of the brand. “Why did you choose these masks?”

Justin stared at him. “They were marketed as having built in antibacterial properties that couldn’t be washed out. I know that covid isn’t a bacteria, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt.”

Mike frowned as he found the masks’ website. “Did you read the small print?” Mike asked. “Did you read why it is supposedly antibacterial?” Mike took a breath. “It’s because the fabric contains silver nano particles, Justin. You bought silver infused face masks. That’s what’s giving you a reaction. You were a werewolf wearing a mask full of silver.” Mike stopped with an effort. “It isn’t like it’s silver thread, which would have burned your face off. But according to the website, there are enough silver particles to kill bacteria. That would make you a poorly werewolf.”

Paul dropped Miss Cleo and stepped quickly back. “If you dispose of the masks, you should be fine now,” he said.

The cat ran straight to Justin who swung her into his arms. “My sweetheart! I can cuddle you again. I’ll get some tuna for you now.” Justin looked at the paladins. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am - I should pay you your fees, though, even if you don’t need to take away my darling Miss Cleo.” His voice broke.

Paul looked with disbelief as the cat-shaped demon from hell that had led them such a chase transform into a sweetly cute kitty, purring loud enough to rattle the ornaments on the mantlepiece. “There’s no fee,” he said. “But the leader of the local pack will be in touch, just to make sure that you’re alright and that you keep well.”

Justin pulled his face mask off and looked pale. “Is he very fierce?” he asked timidly.

“He’s a good man,” Mike said, “And he’ll keep an eye out for your welfare.” He watched the elderly werewolf fussing over the cat. “We’ll see ourselves out.”

“Before you go, at least take a bottle of my home brew,” Justin said. “It’s mainly blackberries, from an old boggart recipe. It will do you a lot of good.”

Out in the street, the two men took deep breaths. Paul turned to Mike. “I thought paladins battled evil and protected society.”

Mike shrugged. “Some days are busier than others,” he said. “But we did our good deed for the day.” He pulled out the bottle, unscrewed the bottle lid and sniffed. His eyes widened. “I think I know what this is.”

Paul leaned forward and caught the scent. He straightened up quickly. “It smells very…”

“Lethal,” Mike said. “It’s lethal. But it’s exactly what you need when you’ve had to chase a cat over a six bedroom, three story house with extra cellars.” He took another sniff and then reverently screwed the lid back on. “Why don’t we get back to your place and have a very small amount.” He thought for a moment. “While we’re sitting down. I think we’ve earned it.”

Paul looked at the scratches covering his and Mike’s arms. “We absolutely have.”


Richard sighed. He didn’t want to head to the domain, but he had better go again today. He only had a few days before he took it over fully and it needed a lot of work. He stood and stretched. Getting appointed as Prince of this domain was not exactly a prize but more like a poisoned chalice. And he was hungry again. The last thing the locals needed was a hungry vampire. All the work was taking it out of him and he needed more fuel. He paused. He should say that the last thing that the locals needed was another hungry vampire. Black Bridget was out there somewhere. Richard couldn’t risk being depleted and was feeding a lot more. Thank goodness he had built good relationships with local families over the centuries.

He strode out of the study and into the hall, where he stopped and looked at the miserable elfen huddled against the front door. “What now?”

Cowslip sighed sadly. “The lady in the kitchen has the pan again.”

Richard briefly closed his eyes. “I told you to stay out of her kitchen when she was cooking,” he said. Carol had found that her favourite cast iron frying pan was an excellent deterrent to the elfen.

“But she was making the white sugar cakes,” Cowslip said.

“They’re called meringues, and they are for the celebrations after I become Prince.” Richard stared at the confused elfen in front of him. “Let’s get down to the domain. I’ll have to link to here at some point, but tonight we walk.” He sighed again. “There’s a lot to do.” He picked up a backpack and pushed his way through the nervous elfen.

Richard led them out of the house, down the drive to the lane and then along to a stile. Automatically Cowslip checked around for trouble as he led the way over the stile, gesturing politely for Richard to follow. As Richard climbed, he saw Ragthan and Caelin watching before following him with the others. They were wary, and with Black Bridget around they had a very good reason.

Richard squinted uncomfortably at the sun. He would have preferred to journey by night, but that was too comfortable for Black Bridget. He wanted their next meeting to be in daylight where he had at least a slight advantage. He glanced over his shoulder at the ragtag elfen trailing behind him. The sun was at least doing them good. What had Lord Henry been thinking? These elfen, apparently nature spirits as well as royal pains in the neck, had been shut away from sun and growing things for centuries. Richard had to slow down to allow them time to point to a battered, late season tormentil or a leaf blowing along the road. He wanted to get out of the sun. No vampire enjoyed the daytime. He looked back again. Caelin was marvelling over a stand of ragged Michaelmas daisies. He hadn’t the heart to urge him to hurry.

The entrance to the domain was now locked by Richard. Lord Henry was a faint presence now and the last thing that they needed was Bridget barging in. He looked around at the elfen, much brighter eyed and far less pallid than even a weak ago, then touched the ancient way marker that opened the gate.

Already Richard could feel a difference. The caves now felt old rather than dead, and there was a hint of autumn leaves and moss. Today he needed to work on some defences, and the elfen were here to guard him and to reinforce his work. Richard checked the tablet he had brought with him. He’d played around with some code and managed some wonderful labyrinths to slot into place. He’d need to get advice, but he was fairly sure that he could set parameters to force the maze to change every time it was walked. He nodded to himself. “There’s lots to do today,” he said cheerfully to the elfen. “I hope Gareth has managed to get a fire going. And I have fudge for everyone when we get there.”

“What is fudge?” Cowslip asked.

Richard looked at him thoughtfully. Cowslip was a stupid name for an elfen whose glamour was male, tall, muscular and dark haired, but the vampire didn’t feel like mentioning it just yet. “It’s mainly sugar,” he said. “I chose a nice flavour for you. And I’ve got some meals for Gareth.” Richard frowned. The goblin was stuck here until Lord Henry released him or Richard took over, but the creature was looking thinner and more worn at every visit. Carol had sent supplies. Richard hoped that they would be enough.

They rounded a corner into what would become Richard’s Great Hall. It was still a cavern, but now there appeared to be a gap in the roof. Sunlight of a sort was flooding in and the floor of the cavern was green and softened. In the centre, Gareth stood, his eyes shut and his face tilted towards the warming light. Richard felt responsibility settle on him a little heavier. Such a little thing meant so much to the goblin. But there was no time and little energy to be maudlin. “Hello, Gareth,” Richard called. “Can you get a fire going?”

Gareth turned, a smile on his worn face. “I’ve one set up and ready to start, sir. I’ll get onto it now.”

Richard nodded. “I’ve brought some supplies for you and the elfen. If you find the cloth for the table, I’ll light the fire.”

Gareth scampered away as Cowslip drifted closer. “The domain is being reborn and renewed,” Cowslip said. “You must beware the taint of darkness, as you are undead, but it is still so much more wholesome than it was.” There was a glint of tears in his eyes, and he turned to where Gareth spread a clean cloth over a flat rock. “And I await with interest the taste of this fudge.”

Richard passed around packets of cheap, honey flavoured fudge to the elfen and then handed over a large hamper to Gareth. “My housekeeper said she thought the food would be sufficient for a few days,” he said. “But let me know if you need more.” He looked around and nodded. The air in here was fresh and the sunlight streaming in was warming the elfen. “I’ll be working in that corner if you need me.”

Richard placed himself safely out of the way of the sunlight on a stable piece of rock and settled down. The nexus he wanted should be there so he could start with an entrance here. He frowned in concentration, then looked up.

“Sir, sir!” Gareth hurtled towards him. “Sorry, sir, but I have to say it. Thank you and bless you and bless your housekeeper who must be a champion and a magician and thank you again for this!”

Richard stared for a moment at the ugly, tired face. “I’m glad you like the food,” he said. “Are there others that need food?” He looked around the cavern. The elfen were hysterically giggling as they licked up crumbs of fudge but he thought he saw shadows in the corners.

“There’s a few of us here,” Gareth said. “And food has been a little thin. There used to be farms, they say, with proper orchards and fields and hives and raspberries…” He trailed off. “It’s been hard, sir, but now this!” He swallowed and waved a hand to the basket.

“How many are there to feed?” Richard asked, looking at the spartan supplies that Carol had packed.

“There’s me, an old couple of brownies, but they’re very frail now. They can’t do much but they’re willing to do what they can, and they don’t take much, just a little milk will be fine – though we share and share alike down here,” Gareth added. He sighed with happiness. “Then there’s old Mr Jenkins. He’s from Wales and a boggart, but he’s not all bad. We’re all so grateful. This is festival food. Thank you!”

Richard held his anger back. Lord Henry had let his retainers starve down here, and Richard had stood aside without thinking about it and let him. A shadow passed across the sunlight and Richard pulled himself together. “I’ll make sure that some more decent food comes down tomorrow, and I’ll get the farms and forests ready as soon as I have the defences in place,” he promised. He looked across the cavern. An unfamiliar figure was standing on top of the rocks, arms raised to the welcome warmth. He took a deep breath and turned back to Gareth, choosing his words careful. “I am glad for your appreciation,” he said. “And after I become your prince, I will have a duty of providing for my people. However now, at the request of Lord Henry, I have a duty of building. I must build a place for us all. So please excuse me. I will call if I need you.” He watched the scrawny figure almost bounding away. He had a duty and, dammit, he was going to do it!

Stolen Sweets

“I’ve handed over your details to the Home Office,” Richard said. “You’ll be getting paid direct from them, and a housekeeper’s allowance as well.”

“I’ll pass that directly to Liz,” Paul said. “She’s taking it very seriously.” He looked around Richard’s comfortable study. “Are you sure that Carol isn’t a brownie?”

“I think that technically she’s a normal,” Richard said, following Paul’s gaze over the gleaming brass and polished wood. “But she’d fit in. She and Liz seemed to have formed some sort of alliance,” he added. “Now that Carol is spending the nights at your place, they seem to be plotting.”

Paul nodded uneasily. “According to Liz, she’s making a rag rug and teaching Carol how to knit, but…”

Richard nodded. “I’m sure that they’re up to something. But never mind that.” He straightened the books on his desk. “I need to have a meeting with my court on Wednesday,” Richard said. “I’d like you to be there, along with Theo. It’s about Briget Du and the threat she poses. And I believe that Theo has something that he can tell us. He was caught up in an attack, regardless, and needs to know that action is being taken. If you can get here with Theo around 8pm. There be food, of course, but I’d stay away from the drink if I were you and leave as soon as the business is finished. The elfen are a little giddy at the moment, and they keep stealing sugar from Carol’s kitchen, which doesn’t help.” For a moment Richard looked unutterably weary. “I’ll be glad when they can go back to the domain.”

“I’ll let Theo know,” Paul said. “And it’s getting late. I’ll walk Carol back to the cottage.”

“Perhaps you can take the huge pack of yarn that was delivered this morning with you,” Richard said. “Though you may be better off loading it in a van.”

Paul laughed. “At least it’s taking her mind off things,” he said.

Paul wandered down the passage to the kitchen and then paused. He could hear Carol, and she sounded at the very end of her tether.

“I told you! Keep your hands out of that cupboard,” she snapped. “There are plenty of goodies in the dining room.”

“You no longer read poetry,” Cowslip said. “You no longer read Leigh Hunt. “But the fruit were scarce worth peeling, were it not for stealing, stealing.

“Lee who?” Carol asked, bewildered.

Paul eased open the door. Carol was now backed into a corner, furious and bewildered, with two elfen leaning over her. “You cannot stop us,” Cowslip said, his slim hand resting on the counter and keeping a barrier between Carol and the rest of the kitchen. “We are between you and the pan.”

“Richard will be angry,” Carol said defiantly.

“And so will I,” Paul said, stepping into the kitchen. He caught up the cast iron frying pan with ease and swung it in a high feint at Ragthan who flinched back allowing room for Paul to bring down the wooden spoon hard on Cowslip’s hand, sending an unexpected jolt of magical energy through it.  

Cowslip jumped back and screeched. “A paladin!”

Carol took her chance. She didn’t try and escape. Instead she pushed Cowslip hard on his broad chest. The elfen, taken by surprise, staggered back and then flinched at the fury in Carol’s eyes.

“Don’t you start!” she snapped. “How dare you!”

“I am sorry, Mistress Carol,” Cowslip was now the one pinned back against the cupboards. Ragthan had vanished.

“Sorry? Sorry! Just remember who makes these treats. Just remember who buys these and makes them and has them packed up for feasts.” Carol leaned forward and started into Cowslip’s fearful eyes. “I can make Lord Richard stop you getting any treats at all.”

“Not that!” Cowslip cried. “But they are so sweet!”

Carol stepped back and looked him up and down. “You need to understand how things are,” she said with icy control. “But I have mercy on those who have been long in darkness. If you and your friends can stay out of my kitchen while I’m working tomorrow, at the end of the day I will give fudge.”

“You have fudge?” Cowslip whispered, awestruck.

“I shall make fudge tomorrow, while I am working – if I am left in peace!” Carol said. “And then I will consult with Lord Richard about the proper presentation of fudge. I need to know how often I should give it, and under what circumstances.” She poked the cringing elfen hard in the chest. “Those circumstances will never include you threatening me in my own kitchen. Do you understand?”

Cowslip nodded. “But fudge?”

“If you let me cook tomorrow, yes,” Carol said. “Now go!” The elfen fled.

Paul smiled at her. “I think you’ve found their weakness,” he said.

Carol chuckled. “I suspect that they are still working out things, but fudge is a definite weakness. I shall have to check for some good recipes. Or perhaps Liz will know some.”

“I’ve come to walk you down to the cottage,” Paul said. “If you’re ready.”

“I’ll just clear this stuff up,” Carol said, grabbing a cloth and spraying over the counter. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”

“No rush,” Paul said, watching quietly as Carol wiped down the tops, loaded the dishwasher and picked up a box filled with re-used biscuit tins. “Let me carry that for you.”

Carol shook her head. “There’s not much weight in it, and I want your hands free if we’re attacked.”

Paul laughed. “That’s not so likely. Let me get your coat, then, please.”

Carol allowed Paul to help her into her warm parka and looked around for one last check before turning out the kitchen light. “Liz was talking about a new recipe with lemon chicken,” she said. “It sounds nice. And Theo is coming over. He’s promised to bring dessert.”

“It’s a good thing that I’m keeping active, walking up and down between here and the cottage,” Paul said. “I’ll be putting on weight if I’m not careful.”

Carol locked the door behind them and they strolled down the drive in companionable silence. The sun had set and the night was overcast. Paul pulled his courage together. “I should bring a torch,” he said. “There are lights on the manor and the cottage, but it’s surprisingly dark on the road.”

“And incredibly quiet, if you’re used to a city,” Carol said.

“But it’s not a bad walk,” Paul said. “And I have good company.” He listened to the low chuckle. He swallowed. This was far harder than dealing with rogue werewolves and uppity elfen. “I was thinking. Would you like to come for a drink one night, when it’s quiet. There’s some nice places in Hebden Bridge. Or we could go to Halifax, or anywhere else you’d like.” He forced himself to stop talking.

“I’d like that,” Carol said. “I’d like that a lot. Perhaps we could go to Hebden Bridge for a lunch. It would be easier than trying to get an evening off.”

“It really would,” Paul said, breathing a little easier. “How about Saturday? I can pick you up at eleven and we can get in somewhere before it fills up.”

“That sounds great,” Carol said. “But let’s not tell the elfen. They get silly enough as it is.”

Paul laughed as they arrived at the cottage door. “That’s a deal,” he said, unlocking the door.

“A deal,” echoed Carol. She glanced at him, then stretched up to steal a quick kiss on the cheek before scampering inside to meet Liz.

Paul stopped and touched his cheek. He’d trained against the supernatural, he’d practised martial arts, he pushed himself beyond all limits, and he had never felt so vulnerable. He took a deep breath. It felt good.

By the Book

Paul leaned back and took a mouthful of tea. Looking around Theo’s sparse kitchen, he could evidence of Liz in the gleaming stove top and worn but relentlessly scrubbed floor. “Do you still want to be a vampire?” Paul asked Theo.

Theo stared unseeing into his own mug of tea. “I thought I would, but that werewolf that attacked – that was crazy.”

“I’m sure that you don’t get werewolf attacks all the time,” Paul said. “Obviously there’s the whole feeding thing, but apart from that, it should be quiet enough.”

Theo finally raised his eyes from his mug and stared at Paul. “I felt that spell, you know. I felt it. It was pure evil. I could feel it rolling off Richard in waves as he fought. I thought I was going to choke on it.”

“But you didn’t,” Paul said. “You kept pushing back and you watched over that werewolf when I helped Richard with the magic.”

“You kept that quiet,” Theo said. “I was hunting for a vampire on the moors, but you said nothing about being able to do magic.”

“Are you surprised?” Paul asked. “It’s not something that comes up in conversation. ‘Nice weather we’re having for the time of year and by the way I found a new way of conjuring protection from evil’? You would have thought that I was insane.”

Theo shook his head. “I suppose so.” He sighed and looked back at his untouched tea. “That thing will be back for me. I know it.”

“What do you mean?” Paul asked.

“I don’t think you were paying attention,” Theo said. “I don’t blame you. It sounds like everyone has a lot going on.” He took a breath. “Remember, I told you that I had found a book in the cottage. I tried to sort out a loose floorboard and I found the notebook underneath.”

Paul sat a little straighter. “I remember Briget Du was asking for something. Was that what she meant?”

Theo nodded. “There are notes in there about all sorts of things. There’s all the entrances to Fairyland that are local to here, and some ideas about the lair of that thing. I mean, we couldn’t find it when we were on the moor, but perhaps you were kidding me – leading me astray.”

Paul shook his head. “I was as lost as you, though I would have probably tried to keep you out of danger,” he said. He sighed and took a deep breath. “Okay, how much do you actually know?”

“You’re a wizard,” Theo said. “Richard Dark is a vampire. Mike Dixon is a werewolf. There are monsters out there.” He shrugged. “What else do I need to know?”

“I’m what’s known as the paladin,” Paul said. “It’s my job to protect those who can’t protect themselves when it comes to non-normals, like werewolves or vampires. Richard and Mike are okay. Liz is a brownie, and you need to be nice to her. She’s had a bad time recently.” Paul gave him a hard look. “The last thing she needs is you getting edgy with her.”

“Liz is adorable,” Theo said. “I wouldn’t want to hurt her.” He paused. “No-one’s going to try and hurt her, are they?”

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “The thing that attacked Richard, that cast the spells, that’s another vampire, called Bridget Du. She’s been dormant for a while, but now she’s trying to take over. If she manages it, we are all at risk. Not just us that know, but the farmers and families around here. She’s bad news.”

“Even Liz?” Theo asked.

Paul nodded. “And as she knows where you are, it might be a good idea for you to move in with me and Liz for a while. That cottage has protections built into it, so it’s a little safer, and between Richard, Mike and me, we can keep someone watching there all the time.” He caught Theo’s doubtful expression. “It would help me out, knowing that there would be someone like you around Liz and Carol at night.”

Theo hesitated and then nodded. “I’d like to think I could look out for Liz. And I can come back to my workshop during the day. That should be safe, right?”

Paul frowned. “Bridget attacked during the day before, but it didn’t end well for her. I’m not sure,” he said. “I think that the best thing we can do is to put an end to her.” He looked carefully at Theo. “How do you feel about taking that book to Richard. It may help him find that bitch.”

Theo stared out of the window for a moment, then looked back at Paul. “Richard’s always been fair enough with me, and Liz said that he’s been looking out for her. But why Richard?”

“He’s in charge of the non-normals round here, like Liz and Mike,” Paul said. “Or he will be after Halloween. I’m not exactly sure what’s happening, but he’s the one leading the against Bridget. He’s the one who will deal with her.”

Theo thought about it for a long moment, then nodded. “Let’s go now,” he said. “There’s no time like the present.”

Carol let them in at the manor. “I’m so glad to see you,” she said. “Things are getting weird.”

Paul looked at her. “You mean, weirder than weird guys begging you for fudge?” he asked.

“This one isn’t begging anyone for anything,” Carol said, glancing over her shoulder. “You had better come in. Richard said to bring people through to the living room.”

“I know that it’s not official,” a husky voice rang out from the living room. “But I thought that I’d get ahead of the crowd.”

“You go in,” Carol whispered. “I’ll bring some tea.”

Paul and Theo exchanged glances and walked into the living room. Already there was a hint of a court. The room was huge, with a brisk fire in the fireplace at one end and filled with glorious autumn fires. It had been built in the days when the lord of the manor would bring in all his friends, family, farmworkers and acquaintances to share in celebrations and could easily accommodate a few dozen. Normally the few guests that visited Richard clustered together at one end, but now it was starting to fill up. Elfen lounged around the room and Mike’s wife, Lottie, was in quiet conversation with strangers in a far corner. Richard looked up as they entered. “Allow me to introduce Paul Kidson, who is the paladin here, and his companion, Theo McGuire, who fought most valiantly against a werewolf sent by Bridget Du.”

His guest turned around to look them over. She appeared tall and slim, with shining blonde hair caught back in a ponytail. Paul was no expert, but the slim fitting trouser suit and probably silk shirt looked designer. Her elegant heels looked lethal but expensive. She smiled at Paul, flashing even white teeth. “I’m so pleased to meet you. It’s a relief that we finally have a paladin. I’ve been calling myself Mildred for a while, but I believe that name is somewhat dated. I thought I would change it to Knightsbridge. What do you think?”

Paul looked into the gleaming blue eyes and couldn’t see any trace of a joke there. “There aren’t many people called Knightsbridge,” he said.

“I know,” Knightsbridge said with some satisfaction. “I had heard that many people were using the name ‘Chelsea’ but I always thought that Knightsbridge was a far classier area of London.”

“It is?” Paul asked, feeling more out of his depth than ever. Beside him, Theo was staring in near terror.

Knightsbridge waved a dismissive hand. “Names are important. Look at Cowslip here. That name suited him when he was a young girl, but now, well, he looks like a Thor, or a James, or even a Simon.”

Paul looked at Cowslip. He looked tall, dark and muscled. Elfen could change their appearance, Paul remembered. He wondered briefly what he was like under that illusion but brought his attention back to the present. “Knightsbridge is a good name,” he said. “I don’t want to be rude, but I need to speak with Richard privately.”

“You’re still getting the hang of him being the Prince,” Knightsbridge said indulgently. “You’ll have to ask him for an audience.” She turned back to Richard and looked him up and down, a predatory smile lurking on her lips. “But I’m almost finished here – for now. I’m one of a group of us by Todmorden. Lord Henry threw us out of the domain years ago for complaining about his farms.” She shrugged. “His loss. But I heard that things were changing and I decided to come and check you out.”

“There are a lot of groups around the area that have lost touch with the Prince,” Richard said. “I’m sure that I’ll be meeting them all soon.”

Carol entered with the tea. Knightsbridge turned slowly around and gave her a long, appraising look before turning back to Richard. “You have a normal as a housekeeper? That can’t last.”

“It’s been fine for the last few years,” Richard said. He narrowed his eyes. “And just because I am taking over an established domain without war doesn’t mean I’m going to keep things the same.”

Knightsbridge shrugged and then leaned forward. “I’m sure that we are going to get to know each other very well,” she purred. “And as a vampire, you’re going to need all the help you can get in that domain. You may need someone a little more…” She looked Carol up and down. “Perhaps I can put you in touch with some brownies.” She turned back to Richard. “I have to go now, but I look forward to all the fun that we’re going to have.” She vanished.

There was a stunned silence. Cowslip was the first to speak. “I think I’ll change my name to Matthew,” he said. “Or Matt, for short. It’s a good name.”

Paul nodded. “It suits you,” he said, grasping desperately for sanity. He turned back to Richard. “Are you okay?”

Richard looked at him blankly for a moment. “What the hell has Lord Henry signed me up for?” he asked. “No matter, it looks like you have something serious there.”

Paul nudged his friend forward. Theo cleared his throat. “When Liz and I were attacked, she was looking for something. A notebook. I found it under the floorboards in the cottage.” Theo looked around nervously. “It may help find her.”

Matthew stepped forward and stared as Theo pulled out the battered notebook from his pocket. “That’s the notebook of Isadore Walker,” he whispered.

I thought that was lost,” Richard said. “That alters things. If I may, Theo, I’d like to have a long look at it.”

Theo handed it over. “I’m glad I’m not holding it any longer,” he said. “But let me know how I can help.”

Richard couldn’t take his eyes from the worn book in his hands. “You have already done a great deed,” he said. “Now we have a better chance of taking the fight to Bridget Du herself.”

Party Under the Hills

Paul took a very small sip of his glass of water and looked around what appeared to be a large, Victorian hall. Aspidistras and leather couches were arranged throughout the space with a large fire at one of the vast room. At the other end, trestles were covered with vertiginous mounds of food, from glistening sausages and hams, through soft and saggy baked potatoes, to gleaming fruit pies and desserts spangled with sugar crystals. Meringues of all types were heaped on huge platters interspersed with wide dishes of fudge. Looking at it was enough to give any sane person heartburn.

Away from the food, knots of people were scattered around making awkward conversations. Most were congregating between the bar, run by Caelin, and the large, wingback chair where Lord Richard sat in awkward state. Most of the guests looked, for want of a better word, normal, but some definitely did not. “How do I know what everyone is?” Paul asked. “I mean, if this is the inauguration of the new Prince of the non-normals then anything could be here.”

Sir Craig laughed. “Tonight you just keep your head down and hope,” he said. He smiled pleasantly as Mike came up to them.

Paul made the introductions. “Sir Craig, this is Mike Dixon who is the head of the local werewolf pack and his wife, Lottie. Mike, this is Sir Craig, the representative of the Knights Templar. He’s here to be a witness and to give me a few pointers.”

Mike gave Sir Craig a long, appraising look as he shook his hand. “I heard about what happened at the Village with Sir Jason,” he said. “It was a bad business.”

Sir Craig kept a pleasant smile on his face. “It was a bad business all over. But it got settled in the end.”

Paul looked from one to the other. “Is there a problem?”

“Not at all,” Mike said, dropping Sir Craig’s hand. “I hope that you enjoy the evening.” He stalked off towards his wife who was chatting to what appeared to be an elderly man wearing a dusty frock coat and a top hat.

Paul looked at Sir Craig. “What do I need to know?”

“A bad posting went wrong,” Sir Craig said flatly. “Don’t worry about it. Just keep focused on what’s happening around you now. Who the hell is that?”

Paul looked over to where a tall, slender blonde had appeared. She was wearing a strapless, form fitting dress in sugar pink that just about covered the top of her thighs and left nothing to the imagination. As she prowled forward on ridiculously high heels, she blew a kiss to Richard who was watching warily. “That’s Knightsbridge,” Paul said. “She’s an elfen. She used to call herself Mildred but thought she should change her name.” Paul took a deep breath. “She liked the name Chelsea but wanted something a little different.”

Sir Craig shook his head. “Elfen have their own ways of looking at the world. And of all the Boroughs of London, Knightsbridge isn’t the worst name in the world. She could have called herself Tooting.”

Paul chuckled. “I know one of the local elfen changed from Cowslip to Matthew, which made sense, I suppose.” He looked around. “Let me introduce you to my housekeeper, Liz Green, and my friends, Theo McGuire and Carol Simpkins. Carol is also Richard’s housekeeper.”

“You mean, Lord Richard,” Sir Craig said, smiling at the group. “It’s probably going to take some getting used to.”

Carol nodded as she slipped her arm through Paul’s. “But he always was the one who got things done around here,” she said. “It’s not entirely new, at least, not while I’ve known him.”

Sir Craig cast his eyes around the room. “How many of these people have you known longer than the big announcement, though?” he asked. “I imagine all sorts of people are crawling out of the woodwork.”

“There have been some characters,” Carol said with magnificent understatement as she looked at Knightsbridge. “And there are going to be a lot of changes.” For a moment she looked uncertain.

Sir Craig nodded. “Lord Richard is going to find a lot of challenges,” he said. “But I think that he’s started on the right foot.” He caught the eye of an elfen across the room. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Rioja.”

Carol looked up at Paul. “Do you think that she will try and come here?” she asked. “I mean, do you think that there’s going to be an attack?”

Paul nodded. “It’s almost guaranteed,” he said. “If you look, hardly anyone is drinking, and everyone’s alert. If it does all go wrong, you need to follow Lottie and get out.” He looked at his friends. “That goes for you as well, Liz and Theo. You need to leave.” He took Theo’s arm. “You remember what it was like in your workshop. You need to make sure that Liz and Carol get out and stay safe.”

“I hope nothing does happen,” Carol said, looking over to the trestle tables. “Liz and I put a lot of work in for the food. I’d hate to see it wasted.”

Liz nodded. “I never thought I’d be sick of making meringues, but we must have made hundreds of them.”

“Probably more than that,” Carol said. “I bought in the fudge as it’s so fiddly if you have other things to do, and I ordered the hog roast from Huddersfield, but we covered most of the rest ourselves.”

“If we have to do this regular, we’ll need a better kitchen,” Liz said. “Don’t get me wrong, we can manage, but it would have been a lot quicker with different equipment.”

Theo ignored the women but leaned in close to Paul. “Who and what is here?” he asked.

“Well, you know Richard, I mean, Lord Richard, right?” Paul said. “And I think you know his friend, Nathan, who is also a vampire.”

Theo nodded, taking a breath. “Do you ever regret your choices? he asked. “I mean, I came here wanting to be a vampire…”

Paul chuckled. “That’s Knightsbridge, talking with Lord Richard. They’re an elfen, like Matthew and Ragthan, and they hang out around Todmorden. That’s almost a safe distance away.”

Theo shook his head. “There is no safe distance,” he said. “Not from her. So that group over there are brownies, like Liz?”

Paul followed his gaze to an elderly couple and a few younger, misshapen creatures. “The older ones are brownies, and then there’s Gavin, a goblin. He’s the one tending the fire, and the older creature next to him is Sion Jenkins. I’m told he’s a well behaved boggart.”

Theo narrowed his eyes. “Are you okay with that?” he asked. “I mean, with everything?”

Paul let his eyes wander over the large hall. “It may have been a boggart that killed my parents, but what stayed with me was the rage. That creature was mad, insane, twisted with their fury. It could have been a local addict or a mentally ill normal who hadn’t been taking their meds. But at least now I can be honest about the shape of them. Mr Jenkins is an embarrassing old man, but he’s not a threat, not in the same way. Those, however, could be, in theory.” Paul nodded at a group chatting around a brass side table. “That’s Steve Adderson from York. He’s a powerful magician and half elfen. He’s in good standing with the prince of York and related to the prince of Leeds and dangerous in his own right. He’s next to someone called Ian Tait. He’s a werewolf that once summoned a demon in Lord Richard’s house. Ask Carol about it sometime. She was terrified.”

Theo looked over to Carol who, with Liz, was drifting over to the food. “I can’t imagine her being scared of anything,” he said. “I mean, she even takes those elfen in her stride.”

Paul looked across to Carol. The light gleamed on her hair and he was struck once again by her poise under pressure. “I don’t think that it’s been that easy for her,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s been easy for any of us.”

Carol paused next to a vat of pea soup and looked around. “You can feel it as well, can’t you?” she asked Liz. “There’s so much tension in the air. I feel like I’m fighting to breathe.”

Liz nodded and huddled next to Carol. “I’m not used to this,” she said. “I mean, Theo seems to think I know all about werewolves and boggarts and wights, but we were respectable and kept ourselves to ourselves. We stayed away from trouble.” She wrung her hands. “I wish I hadn’t come tonight.”

“We have to be here for Paul and Richard,” Carol said. “Besides, I think you have to be here because you’re a brownie.”

Liz flinched. “It feels so odd to have it said out loud,” she said. “And I’ve always kept myself so nice and proper. Hold on a moment, who’s that?”

Carol instinctively looked around for Lottie and shivered. “All these new elfen,” she said. “I can’t keep track.”

Liz looked at the dark shape filling a corner. “I’m not sure it’s just an elfen.”

Darkness spread for a moment and then rushed together to form the shape of a tall woman. Her hair was glossily black and hung to her waist and her dark eyes glittered with malevolence as she stared around the room. She was wearing a prim, black, Victorian gown with dark lace at the high collar and on the cuffs of the long sleeves. She stalked over to Richard. “You’ve come on quite well,” she said. “The labyrinth was almost a challenge. But I’ve learned a few things over the years, and one thing I know is that you are sitting in my place.”

Richard stood slowly, suddenly darkly powerful and radiating authority. “You have never known your place. And this ends now.”

Then everything went dark.

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