Both Alike in Dignity

Interlude Two - Mistaken Identity

DJ’s random mooch through the streets of south London is interrupted by an excited female voice, “Desmond! Desmond!”

DJ looks up to see a young woman, certainly no older than her early twenties, dressed in reasonably expensive clothes. She has a certain look about her that DJ has always associated with the sort of middle class, left of centre types who feel that they understand what it is like to grow up on the streets, and feel the related urge to help others overcome problems that they’ve never actually encountered themselves.

The young woman approaches and throws her arms around DJ in a hug before he has a chance to say anything. Then she pulls back and gives him an appraising look.

“Desmond, what are you wearing? Are you going to one of your talks, is that why you’re dressed like that?”

“Lady, I have no idea what you bin smokin but I don’t fink I am the geezer you lookin’ for”

She seems a little shocked and steps back in alarm, looking DJ over closely. “I’m sure I recognise my own fiancee,” She asserts, sounding anything but sure. “Desmond, is this a joke?”

“Seriously, luv, never seen ya before”, DJ pushes past the woman and wanders down the road a small way before stopping and thinking on something. He turns around and heads back to the woman, who is still standing where he left her looking confused and not a little upset.

“Sorry, luv, might have sounded a bit harsh back there, I get the mistaken face thing quite a bit. I’m told we all look alike”, DJ trys a winning smile out on the woman to smooth the tension, he’s been studying Jack but it’s not having quite the same effect.

She smiles weakly.

“Listen, where does your fiancee hang out? He’s lucky, I should say ‘ello and apologise for bein rude to his missus”

[A bit of a thin excuse, but the dice were in DJ’s favour on this occasion]

“Um, well, he does a lot of work at the youth centre over by Mansfield Street,” she seems surprised to have answered at all. “But you really don’t need to trouble yourself.”
“It’s no bovver, luv seriously”, the coming-in-3rd-place smile falters slightly. “Look after yourself ‘aight?”

He leaves the woman, still looking slightly confused and strides confidently down the street. Once out of sight, DJ picks up the pace a little and twists through the backstreets, heading in the direction of Mansfield street. Perhaps it was time to meet this other Desmond.

* * *

Half an hour and a brief stint on a bendy bus (for which he didn’t buy a ticket) later, DJ finds himself standing on the street corner opposite one of Brixton’s youth centres.

After ten minutes or so watching the youth centre and deciding what to do next, DJ sees a number of people, mostly teenagers accompanied by one or two adults, start to leave the building. None of them seem to resemble DJ in the slightest. After a further ten minutes, the place seem to be almost empty, with no movement anywhere save for a single figure moving behind the frosted glass of a room on the first floor.

Resolved to find out what’s going on, DJ strides towards the front door and enters the building.

He takes the wide, circling stairway just inside the door to the first floor where the doors open out immediately into a mid sized hallway with a stage at one end. A lone figure is in the middle of clearing the space after what must have been presentation of some sort. A number of cheap plastic chairs are already stacked over to one side of the hall and the man is in the process of moving the final few rows to clear space for the collection of cheap pool and table-football tables that appear to have been pushed to one side while people sat. As DJ enters the room, the man turns sharply and looks at him with wide, slightly fearful eyes.

The man resembles, almost perfectly, the face that DJ remembers seeing in the mirror before he was taken. His old human face, only a few years older and, perhaps, a few years softer. Dressed in casual clothes yet clearly clean and well kept, the man looks healthy in a way that DJ never really did.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he says in DJ’s voice. “Are you here to kill me?”

Not having really prepared for this moment, DJ is unsure of exactly what he DOES want from this… thing. “I don’t know”, he slowly replies. “Do you deserve to die? You don’t really exist anyway, not in a meaningful way”. DJ can’t decide if he feels bitterness or pity for the creation in front of him.

“I don’t think I deserve to die,” Desmond replies cautiously, moving to stand behind one of the chairs as he speaks and putting that extra barrier between him and DJ. “I’m getting married in a few months and I’ve been looking forward to it. And I don’t think that I don’t really exist, I mean I think I do exist, at least as much as anyone else. I might be different, but I think, I feel, and I didn’t ask to be what I am.” He hesitates, trying to gauge the effect that his words are having on DJ, “And I’m not responsible for what happened to you.”

“No, you weren’t”, an uncomfortable silence descends on the room as DJ and Desmond stare at each other. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here, man. About the only fing we ‘ave in common is the same face. What did you do to my life?”

“I lived it, I guess. I’ve always known what I was, or at least suspected that something was wrong with me. When I… became you I tried to carry on as normal, but I guess you could say my heart wasn’t in it. It all felt a little bit false. It didn’t take too long before I got myself arrested, just being careless really, or trying too hard maybe. That gave me some time to think, reassess my life, your life… our life? Gave me time to sort out my memories a bit too, put together a bit more about where I came from. It didn’t seem right that I should have to carry on like you did, I wanted to live my own life, and getting shot or arrested wasn’t really what I wanted, so when I got out I decided to try something new. Not a lot of work for a guy with a criminal record and no qualifications, though, so I kinda fell into youth work, and… well, here I am.”

“Well, best of luck to you…I guess”, DJ turns and wanders towards the door, turning back on the way. “Look after them kids, yeah?”

“Sure thing. And, DJ, thanks for… you know, this. I’ll try to stay out of your way.”

DJ nods and walks out of the centre.

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Interlude Two - Bridgeguard

It is a clear night later in the week after the market visit and the lack of clouds results in a faint chill, offsetting the otherwise warmer weather that has prevailed for the past week or so. DJ is on guard at Southwark Bridge along with Sara Slate, a duty that should see them standing resolute on the near side of the bridge itself but Sara, as senior member of the guard on duty tonight, has opted for a more sheltered spot on the riverside pathway not far from the Crown & Antler. Shae has joined the pair at the invitation of Syud to see a little more of how the Bridgeguard go about their business. So far their business seems to consist of drinking cans of Strongbow [DJ was supposed to bring lager but inexplicably did not] and playing cards while Sara [but not DJ] smokes.

“So, Shae, enjoying the thrilling excitement of Bridge duty?” DJ is pacing up and down the Thames Path and occasionally peeking up to the bridge to see if anything interesting is headed in the Changelings direction.

Shae looks at DJ with a puzzled look on his face. “Thrilling.” He takes another mouthful of cider. “So what exactly are we doing here again DJ?”

“Well, the bridge needs guardin’. From both sides really. Mostly we’re guarding against all the evil, nasty stuff that lives North of the river, and stoppin’ it headin south and fuckin’ up our shit. Of course, some Fae occasionally forget da rules bout goin’ North a the river and usin’ Magic. So we have to remind ‘em nice and gentle like that they shouldn’t go throwin’ their powers around willy nilly. ‘Course, fuck all happens most of the time and I just get the chance to spend a few hours starin’ at Sara’s fine arse and drink”

“I heard that!” Sara says in mock annoyance. “Just because the best piece of arse you’re ever likely to get your hands on is Jack’s rump steak doesn’t mean you get to stare at mine. Why don’t you take a wander top side and see if anyone is about.”

“C’mon, Shae, lets see if there is someone to go harass up there.” DJ hops off the river wall he was sitting on and lightly jogs up the stairs leading up onto Southwark bridge. Once at the top, he starts to trot along the bridge itself, whistling tunelessly whilst casting a glance about for anything interesting. Once about halfway across he peeks over the edge and starts dropping small stones into the river whilst waiting for Shae to catch up.

Shae follows DJ and easily catches up to him. He peers over the bridge watching the stones drop into the water. He then turns to DJ. “So… umm…” He asks a bit cautiously. “You and Sara?”

“Pff, I wish. Doesn’t hurt to keep trying though right?”

The atmosphere on the bridge itself is still and the chill in the air is more evident. Glancing towards the far end of the bridge, the north bank, DJ catches a faint scent of something old and damp.

“‘Ello, what’s going on here then?”, DJ starts wandering towards the smell, keeping a sharp lookout.

Shae leaves the question and follows DJ, nervously looking about for anything, but unsure as to what. A cold shudder runs down Shae’s spine, sending goose-bumps down his arms before disappearing as quickly as it came.

A few steps towards the centre of the bridge and the change in atmosphere is even more apparent. A thin mist seems to be drifting onto the bridge from the far bank, but staying clear of the water, almost as if the mist is relying on the bridge to cross the river. The smell of old things, forgotten and musty things, is increasingly strong and seems to come from the mist itself.

“DJ?” Sara calls out with an edge of tension in her voice.

“Stay back there luv, just a bit of dodgy weather”, lowering his voice, DJ motions to Shae to come closer, “Looks like things might get interesting after all…your spider sense jangling at all?”

Shae follows DJ’s instructions and allows himself a little chuckle at the last remark. “Just a little bit. What do you think it is?” He readjusts the hood of his top, further obscuring his face while staring off into the mist unsure of what to expect.

At the edge of his hearing DJ can make out the faint sound of men shouting and metal clanging on metal. A very slight hint of smoke seems to accompany the stronger stench of age and decay. Shae is unaware of the sounds, but his stomach lurches as the fog continues to thicken on the far side of the bridge.

Shae places his hand on his stomach in a feeble manner of comfort. He turns to DJ. “I don’t like this. It’s… It’s like back at the Market.”

DJ turns rapidly to face the source of the noise, with slight worry on his face. “Well, better get official about this.” He moves to the centre of the bridge and stands firmly, declaring with a loud voice, “You are crossing into the Freehold of the Southern Fields. Show yourself as friend or turn back.” Then, under his breath, “Yeah, coz asking people to go away always works well.”

Shae stares at DJ with awe and shock. “You sure about this DJ?” He stands up and moves over to join DJ. He whispers, “Really sure?”

“Not in the slightest, but you don’t get anywhere by running away from problems, face them head on and see what happens. Then punch them in the face”

A smile forms on Shae’s face and he balls his fists and adjusts his stance. “Well, I’ve had enough of running.” He stares out unblinking into the fog. He then whispers again, this time almost to himself, “Really sure about this?” He then pumps his fists, cracking his knuckles.

The pair hear footsteps approaching from behind them, the slightly heavy crunch of Sara moving along the bridge to stand alongside. “The Mist,” she says quietly. “It happens from time to time, although I’ve never seen it this heavy before. It should stay on the far side of the river, and it’s very rare for anything to come out.” Even so, she continues to stand tense and alert with DJ and Shae.

Shea turns to Sara. “I’m getting the same feeling now as I did when we were at the Market the other day. When the Lady showed up, I felt the exact same.” He looks back to DJ before looking back out to the fog again. “The closer I was to her, the more I felt… It got worse. Okay?”

DJ stands silent, listening to the wind for sounds of movement and is rewarded only by more distant noise beyond his ability to determine its exact location.

“It’s a strange thing,” Sara continues in a low voice without taking her eyes away from the far side of the bridge. “Syud swears he once saw a couple of kids dressed like extras from Oliver! step out of the Mist and make it half way over the river before they collapsed. He says he rushed over to help them, but by the time he got there their bodies were nothing but dried skin and brittle bone. Sebandus insists that he once saw a Roman Centurian step out of the Mist, salute him and then step back, but then Sebandus will say anything after a few drinks.” Her words suggest humour, but her tone remains strained.

Shae turns back to Sara. “Dried skin?” He looks at DJ to see if he reacts to the remark. “Shouldn’t we get word back to the rest? Just in case this is something big?”

”If the worst we have to worry about is the Artful Dodger and a bloke wearing a skirt I doubt we have too much to fear. Let’s take a closer look.” DJ starts to wander towards the mist, daring it to do something more interesting.

For all his South London gangland pretensions, DJ is apparently well acquainted with the cast of West End musicals.

As DJ approaches the far side of the bridge, the sounds and smells become clearer, although still seem to be coming from some distance away. The shouting of men remains indistinct, but the clanging of metal takes on a regularity that suggests crude alarm bells ringing. The smell of smoke – burning wood, burning flesh, burning filth – becomes far stronger.

Shae watches DJ move forward while he keeps his position. He looks to Sara with a questioning glace before redirecting his attention back towards the mist and DJ.

As DJ approaches the coiling strands of mist at the edge of what seems like a thick fog bank, he begins to feel heat on his face, as if from a blazing furnace. Through the mist he can see the indistinct forms of people running back and forth in front of a vague orange haze. Beneath the strong scent of smoke he can detect the acrid smell of human fear.

“Ello? Everyone alright over there?” , still unsure entirely what to make of the situation, DJ tries the friendly approach.

Not sure if he should move forward, Shae calls out after DJ. “Who are you talking to DJ? Do you see anyone?”

“Not sure, some people that might be on fire. Either that or we’ve found the local Pagan cult dancing around their maypole”

Shae tries not to laugh and cautiously moves forwards to join DJ. “On fire?”

As Shae moves forward he too can hear some of the sounds that DJ picked up, although none of them too clearly, and the faint tinge of smoke is the only scent that he notices. The smell is far too remote to come from as close as the figures in the mist and the orange blaze would otherwise suggest.

“DJ, be careful!” Sara calls from part way over the bridge.

“Don’t worry love!”, DJ shouts back, “Nothing too serious, you hang back there and watch our backs!” Steeling himself, he pushes forward to see what’s going on.

Shae sees DJ step into the edge of the mist and instantly the thin coils around his feet rear up as if eager to seize him and drag him in. Shae’s stomach rebels and he has to force down the urge to vomit in reaction. Within moments, DJ’s form grows indistinct behind a thick blanket of white.

Meanwhile DJ himself feels an instant of painful cold before a blast of heat from the scene before him leaves him uncomfortably warm. The city is being consumed by a vast conflagration, and crowds of people in archaic costume are running back and forth, some few trying to contain the fire, but many adding to the fear and confusion. Most seem completely unaware of his presence, but one man dressed in what looks like a military uniform – outdated but still more recent than the clothes warn by the majority – turns almost immediately, a look of shock and hope on his face.

“Good god man, how did you find yourself here? Is the way back still open? You must turn back now!” His accent is precise, even as he shouts over the noise, like a character from, well, an old war film.

DJ turns to look behind him briefly and strains his eyes to see through the thick bank of mist. Making out the indistinct pair of figures still briefly visible, he figures there is at least some connection still available that means he isn’t totally lost. Turning back to the man, he shouts over the roar of the fire, “What’s going on here, what caused the fire?”

The man doesn’t appear to hear DJ clearly over the noise, but shouts as he begins to run past him into the mist, “Not the Luftwaffe, this is THE fire.”

* * *

Shae quickly turns back to Sara, fighting back his gut feeling. “We need help! This is all very wrong!”

Sara rushes up beside Shae, peering intently through the mist, “I can still see him, he isn’t lost yet.” She hesitates, apparently unsure whether to follow DJ in, and a moment later a dark shape begins to move slowly through the mist towards them. “I think he’s coming back!”

* * *

“Hey, where are you going?”, DJ reaches out to grab the man and manages to get a firm grip on the shoulder of his uniform as the man rushes past.

“Let me go!” he cries in apparent terror, “We MUST get away from here.” He struggles briefly against DJ’s grip before pulling himself free, tearing the seam of his jacket in the process, and plunging headlong into the mist.

Beyond the man, his form already fading, DJ can see the mist thickening, and the shadowy forms of Shae and Sara growing even less distinct.

* * *

Shae and Sara watch as the stationary figure reaches out to restrain the moving shape and both begin to grow fainter as the mist thickens. Then one figure breaks free and starts to move, slowly it seems, though the haze towards them.

“DJ!” Shae shouts at the top of his lungs. “DJ! Where are you?” He turns back to Sara. “I’ll go in and see if he’s alright. Watch me.” And without waiting, he steps into the mist.

* * *

Within the mist confusion reigns. The figure who seemed so far away and moving so slowly only moments before is suddenly close to Shae and moving fast. Before Shae has had time to register the sudden cold chills that cover his body, a large man slams into and past him on his way out of the mist, spinning Shae and disorientating him further as he battles the strong sense of nausea that the mist invokes. Fighting for balance, Shae reaches out his arms and comes into contact with another body, this time DJ, who is likewise far closer than he had appeared.

DJ himself is surprised to see the figure of the man recede into the mist just as the figure of Shae, sweating and clearly suffering from some fever, begins to emerge, grasping at DJ for support.

“Welcome to old London Shae, now let’s get the fuck out of her before things go more wrong than they already have.” Pushing Shae ahead of him, DJ starts to charge after the man who ran past him.

Clutching his stomach, Shae stumbles ahead of DJ as directed, almost falling to the ground but managing to keep on his feet and moving in the direction DJ indicated.

* * *

A few confused steps through the mist and the pair find themselves back on the bridge in the crisp night air. Sara is kneeling a few yards ahead of them beside the body of an old man, his skin is wrinkled and his white hair thin atop his head. His right hand clutches his left arm tightly and a rictus grin of pain distorts his face. She looks up at them both with fear in her face.

“He just came through and fell,” Sara explains inadequately.

DJ kneels down to look at the man, tentatively reaching out to touch him. “Aint much more we can do for him now.” Remembering his ally, he turns to face Shae. “How are you man, alright?”

“I’m better now. Sorry.” He wipes the brow of his his head with his sleeve. “What exactly was all that?”

“Something bad,” Sara offers. “Is anyone going to come looking for this guy? Who the hell is he?”

Shae kneels down beside the man and places his hand on his shoulder. He looks up to Sara and then to DJ. “He’s dead.”

“It happens,” Sara agrees without any apparent discomfort. “DJ?” she looks for some sort of explanation.

“Not a clue luv.” He turns to face the mists. “Something is going on that’s for sure, what kind of sorcery could bridge 400 years in the blink of an eye?” He turns back to the others in a snap. “We should see if he has anything identifiable on him first and then we need to ditch this corpse before someone gets any funny ideas”. He peers over the side of the bridge. “I reckon the current would get rid of what little is left of him, C’mon, give me a hand” he briskly rifles through the man’s pockets seeking anything of interest that might give a clue as to this man’s identity.

Shae helps DJ in the searching of the man. “Shouldn’t we get someone to look him over rather than dump him DJ? Surely, the risk of his body not being swept away is too great.” He looks over to Sara for support.

“There’s nothing to link him to us even if they do find him,” Sara says as she pulls a large wallet from the man’s inside pocket. “Still, it might be safer to put him somewhere else. Would you both agree that we’re on the wrong side of the river here, boys?”

Shae looks around, not quite sure of where he is. “I’ll take your word on it.” He spots a storm drain with a broken grating not too far away. Pointing, he asks. “What about it we dump him in there?”

“Nothing so prosaic, boys. Bring the body.” She wanders over to the storm drain, kneels down and whispers, “Let me in.” The space in front of the storm drain seems to fold away somehow revealing a narrow muddy gap in what might be the raised banks of a river, perhaps four feet deep and a few feet high.. A few thin roots dangle down from the top of the space and DJ notices a soft, earthy aroma.

“Roll him in there – no one will find him and we can always pull him out if necessary” Sara looks about her to check that no one is watching. “Quickly!”

DJ, grabs the other side of the body from Shae and they carry the man down to stuff him in the hole. A few moments later the small hedge gate closes, concealing the body.

The job done, Sara, pulls out a mobile and begins searching for a number. “Syud is gonna flip when I tell him about this one, and he’ll want to hear all the details,” she declares as the trio head back south over the bridge to the relative security of the Southern Fields.

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Interlude Two - Newton Brown

In the week before the trip to the market, Will agrees to bring Jack along to meet Newton Brown and negotiate for a supply of his brew for the Crown & Antlers.

Will leads the way as the pair walk down a strangely generic Victorian terrace, twin lines of identical grey buildings on each side, their bay windows revealing only net curtains behind them and nothing of the personality of those living within. Newton has agreed to meet the pair at Martin Nicklesmith’s house as the venerable Wizened has himself expressed an interest in meeting Jack Squire properly.

Jack turns to Will as they stroll towards their destination. “I wonder why Nicklesmith has asked to see me. I do not recall meeting the man, well we may have been introduced once or twice but our exchanges have been brief. Any ideas William?”

“Most likely he wants to make sure of you. The Wizened are a cautious lot as a whole, and the Old Boys are the vanguard… or is that rearguard? If you’re a rising star they probably want to be sure you’re not going to get stuck up their asses. Metaphorically speaking.”

Will taps a claw rhythmically against the side of his leg as he lopes along, one eye always on their surroundings.

“A rising star you say.” Jack replies with a distant look in his eyes. “Thank you Will, you do me a great honour by saying so. I shall be on my best behaviour! They call me Gentleman Jack for a reason you know!” The pair arrive at the address and pause at the threshold.

The door has no bell, only a heavy brass knocker and the pair can hear the resulting echoes along the hall inside when they use it. The curtains by the bay window twitch slightly and it is a minute or two before the grimy wooden door cracks open and a set of stained fingers can be seen resting on a security chain before Martin Nicklesmith finally peers through the narrow gap. Grunting in satisfaction once he determines that he is only dealing with the two expected visitors, he closes the door briefly, removes the chain and swings the door wide enough to admit the visitors one at a time.

“Can’t be too careful around here,” he mutters by way of explanation. “Will, show Mr. Squire into the sitting room and then go and sort out the tea.”

“Of course Martin,” Will murmurs. “This way, Jack.” He gestures Jack into the cramped room and heads past into the kitchen to sort out some tea amid an eclectic jumble of crockery, most of which appears to be at least fifty years old.

“Thank you Will.” Jack extends a hand towards Nicklsmith. “Pleasure to meet you Mr. Nicklesmith, and thank you for inviting me to your house.”

“Welcome.” Nicklesmith mutters as he takes Jack’s hand, before turning back to the array of locks and bolts which apparently secure the door from the inside.

The sitting room is small and filled with a variety of mismatched seating, mostly sofas and the occasional armchair, with some folded wooden chairs tucked up against one wall. A large coffee table dominates the centre of the room, leaving relatively little room for a man of Jack’s statue to move around, although possibly presenting less of an obstacle for the typical diminutive wizened. Only two wall spaces are clear of seating, one home to a small fireplace converted to hold an electric heater and the other sporting some sort of bureau on which sits a tiny television.

Nicklesmith follows in behind Jack after a few moments and moves swiftly to occupy the largest armchair set inside the bay window. He waits for Jack to sit before speaking, “So you’re Greene’s new project, eh? And the one taking care of our Will?”

Jack squeezes through the room, sits opposite the Wizened and tries his hardest to look and sound modest as he replies. “I may be Greene’s new ‘project’, as you say, but Will is more than capable of looking after himself.”

“If you say so,” Nicklesmith doesn’t seem convinced, but equally doesn’t seem to feel that it’s worth pursuing. “Newton should be here soon. I gather you’re after some of his special brews for the pub?”

“I am indeed. A large number of the freehold drink in my humble establishment and after sampling some of his fine wares at The May, I am keen to secure a supply for my regulars.”

“Aye, I’d heard you ran a popular place. How many do you get in there most nights? Of us, I mean.”

“At least a dozen most nights and up to twenty or twenty five on a good night. It has been on the increase since we used the place as a safe haven after the coronation. Most of the regulars are from Spring or Summer; the Bridge Guard use it as a place to wind down when they are off duty, as the Crown and Antlers is a stones throw from the river.” Jack rarely passes up an opportunity to talk at length about his beloved establishment.

“So it’s secure, then, with all those Summer boys around? If Newton does agree to supply you I might have to come along one evening to see it for myself.”

“You would be more than welcome, and the first drink will be on the house.” Jack briefly considers the scolding he will get from Jenni for offering yet another free drink.

Nicklesmith grunts something approximating thanks before a knock sounds at the door. He leans over in his armchair and peeks between the opaque, age-yellowed net curtains before standing and making his way around the coffee table towards the door. “Speak of the devil,” he mutters as much for his own benefit as for anyone else. “Will, don’t forget the tea for Newton, no sugar.”

Within a few minutes, Newton Brown has maneuvered his bulk around the coffee table and taken up a reasonable portion of a sofa opposite Jack. “Mr. Squire,” he acknowledges with a nod.

Jack rises fractionally from his seat and extends a hand to the newcomer. “Mr. Brown, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Please call me Jack.”

“Then you must call me Newton. I gather from young Will that you’re interested in having me supply your pub with some of my special brew, is that right?”

“That is indeed correct Newton.” Replies Jack with a nod. “I am doing a disservice to my regulars by serving mundane beverages. It is about time I expanded the drinks menu. It was Greene’s idea to be honest and when I sampled your beer at The May . . . Well that sealed the deal.”

“Hmph,” Newton says at the flattery, but he smiles just the same. “When you say ‘regulars’ are you talking about our kind or the mortals as well? Can’t have mortals drinking my brew.”

“Heaven forbid! When I say ‘regulars’ I refer to members of the freehold.”

“Ah, good stuff. But how will your staff tell them apart, if you don’t mind me asking? Or were you planning to serve the stuff yourself?”

Jack looks thoughtful for a second. “That is a good point, indeed it is. I have an ensorcelled Valet who would assist me, but my staff are aware of the “special regulars” in the Crown and Antlers and know them all by now. It will also depend on supply. If there is only a limited amount then I will only bring out the good stuff on one of our semi-regular lock-ins.” Jack gives Newton a nod and a wink.

“Seems sound enough, sound enough,” Newton agrees. “I wont be able to supply you with much of the stuff, at least not to begin with, so “special events” might be the best way to go. Now, what are you offering as payment?”

Jack flashes a smile at Newton. “In exchange for a regular supply, the quantity of which we can discuss, I will offer this; A regular monthly private meal, of the very best quality, for the Old Boys in The Crown and Antlers. The menu will be original for each meal and you will include some of the best dishes that my man can prepare. I can assure you he is an absolute wizard in the kitchen.”

“What do you think, Martin?” Newton turns to his fellow Old Boy.

“The boy’s place has a good reputation, but I don’t like making any decisions without a biscuit and a descent cuppa inside me. Where is young Will with that tea?”

“You can’t hurry good tea Martin,” Will replies from the doorway, maneuvering a large, irregularly shaped tray onto the table and seating himself.

“Hmph,” Newton considers. “Tell you what, Jack, I’ll sort you out a barrel of me brew in exchange for dinner for Martin and me tomorrow night. If I like what we see, and more importantly what we taste, then we can talk about a deal. How does that sound?”

“The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.” Jack chuckles at his own pun. “You have a deal, and you will not be disappointed, but let us make it tonight shall we? I do like a challenge.” Jack extends a hand to Newton who reaches over the table to shake it.

* * *

The following evening, after Jack, Will, Newton and Martin have finished eating, Newton leans back in his chair and lets out a sigh of contentment.

“That was most definitely a fine meal, Jack. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tasted finer, but for a mortal chef I am impressed. Now, let’s assume that the Boys are interested in your offer, and that I can meet your order at a reasonable cost, then I think we could come to the arrangement we discussed earlier.”

Jack nods and raises his glass at the compliment. “Splendid news. I am pleased that you enjoyed it. It has been a fine meal in good company, an absolute pleasure. What say we crack open that barrel you brought with you and drink a toast to the future, gentlemen?”

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Interlude Two - Recruiting Shae

Blanche wanders through the main bar of the pub one morning having spent the past hour or so up in Jack’s office discussing Spring business. Spotting Shae sitting on a table over to one side trying to take in the newspaper she checks her watch and heads over.

“Do you mind if I join you, Shae? I thought I’d see how you were getting along after our last meeting.”

Shae looks up and then pushes the paper to one side. “Of course not. Please, have a seat.” He smiles broadly, hiding his slight nervousness. “How are you this morning?”

“Oh, not too bad. Which is to say not too busy, but still busy enough to give life meaning. I generally find that having something to do with my time makes the past seem that much easier to bear. Do you find the same is true for you?”

“I wish I could say that I remember my past.” Shae perks up. “But it does keep me from becoming bored. I’m grateful that Jack let’s me work round here. Keeps me busy enough.”

“Even so, I expect you’d like to find something that is your own to focus on once you’re more settled?”

“Yes, I would.” Shae replies without hesitation, he then pauses, taken back by his own reply. “I mean… I’m grateful to Jack for what he has done for me and all, but I feel like I am missing something.” He looks up at Blanche. “Almost like I am still running.”

“Some of our kind never stop running, Shae. But I feel that to run, to hide, to let what happened dominate our lives is a mistake. Once free of them, we are our own people once again. Why should we let our anger at them, and our fear of them dominate our lives still? And once we accept that we have lost that which we had before, then surely it makes more sense to find new enjoyment in the life that remains?”

“So move on and do what I feel is good for me? The past is irrelevant?”

“The past is important, but you can’t change it and shouldn’t dwell on it to the point that it dictates your actions going forward. Far healthier for you to find a new source, or sources, of inspiration around which to build your new life. Or reclaim an old passion and live it anew if you so choose. But either way you said yourself that it helps to stay busy and make your life your own.”

“But I don’t even know my past or where to begin to learn of it.”

“If that is what motivates you right now then I might be able to find someone who can help you.”

“I want to discover it, but at the same time, I’m not sure if I do. I heard that sometimes, it can be a bad thing to rediscover. Too difficult to get over emotionally.”

“It can. You might find, for example, that you have a wife and children, that a fetch has taken your life and for any number of reasons you cannot hope to take it back. Is that something you would be prepared to risk? Winter would have you wallow in that despair, Spring offers the alternative of a new life built around new passions.”

“So Spring will be more supportive of me?”

“We are the truest family that the Lost can know, and we support each other whatever our individual differences.”

“I’ve seen how everyone has quite a bond with Jack. How do the other courts come into it all? Like DJ. He’s not Spring, but is very close.”

“DJ has a lot of the Spring spirit about him – plenty of passion – and in spite of his Summer connections I believe that Lord Greene still has hope that DJ might come over to us in due course. The bonds between Spring and Summer in this Freehold are strong regardless, and I believe Jack is as well regarded by them as DJ is by us, if not more so.”

“How is the relationship with Autumn and Winter?”

Blanche smiles slightly before answering. “Autumn usually keep to themselves. I believe they consider themselves somewhat above the other courts. They don’t actively maintain a distance, they send just enough people to just enough functions to remain polite, and we do much the same during their rule, although many of their more particular festivities are private. They seem to thrive on the mystery of their reputation. As for Winter, well, there are only a few of them and they actively stay out of everyone’s way. If Autumn is the polite neighbour who always says ‘good morning’ but whose name you can never quite recall, then Winter is the shady neighbour who keeps his curtain closed at all times.”

Shae seems to become distant as he thinks to himself so Blanche makes her excuses and leaves.

* * *

One evening spending time with the bridge guard a week or so after the encounter with the Mist, Sara Slate sits down beside Shae, offers him a can of cider (it was DJ’s turn to buy and he still has trouble with lager, although can now manage to drink it if offered).

Leaning on the low wall and looking out over the river, she asks, “You seem to enjoy hanging out with the Guard, have you given any thought to joining us properly?

Shae takes the can of cider and takes a long draught. “It’s been fun. DJ does make me a bit nervous sometimes. But…” He pauses and considers his thoughts a moment. “He knows how to stand his ground.”

“Yes, he does. DJ is a natural Summer courtier really – he’ll stand his ground on any issue without fear or hesitation, and he’ll never let himself become a victim again. Not all of us find that courage so easy to come by, of course, but I feel it’s worth pursuing. Better to stand up in the fullness of our fury and face the danger than to go to our graves cowering, don’t you think?

“Yes… I suppose so.” Shae takes another draught of his drink. “I never want to run again as I did that night. I won’t ever again. As DJ says, square up and punch it.” Shae gives a quick laugh at the thought of DJ shouting at the mist then brings his drink up to his mouth.

“‘Square up and punch it’ yes! But it helps to have the confidence to do so, and the skill to carry it off when facing something more threatening than fog. Many of our kind would like to stand up for themselves, but few actually can.”

“Thing is, I’m not as comfortable up front like DJ.” He turns to look at Sara. “The other night was incredible. And the way that DJ just jumps in… it makes me nervous. Does that sound stupid?”

“Nervous is never stupid, Shae. Quite the opposite – the graveyards are full of fearless men, but the pubs serve beer to men who show caution. There is a place for bravery in the face of a known threat but I’d rather put my trust in someone who isn’t in such a hurry to throw his life away without cause. It’s not the caution that should concern you, it’s what you can do when the need arises to put that caution aside, and you went into that fog after DJ when it mattered.”

Shae stands a bit taller and smiles. “I did, didn’t I? I didn’t really think about it.” He pauses and relaxes again. “But the feelings I get in my stomach. It makes me… it makes me feel like I need to get away sometimes. I almost collapsed in the fog because of it.”

Sara looks at Shae closely. “What causes these sensations, Shae? Is it fear or something else?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s fear.. ‘Least I didn’t feel scared. It’s more like a massive cramp or a kick in the guts. But it was the worst ever in the fog. Last time I felt it was when at the Market with Jack and the lady was there.” He looks at his can of cider. “I felt worse the closer to her I got.”

“Sounds like the thing that Tall Tom used to get,” Sara nods, thinking aloud. “They say that Tom could feel Them approaching so they never took him by surprise. If Tom was still around then maybe he could tell you more about it. I’m sure someone must know something, though, if you ask around.”

“I shall!” Shae could hardly conceal his excitement. “Thank you Sara.” He quickly finishes the rest of his drink. All thoughts now being of who he could go speak to.

* * *

A note arrives in the post one Tuesday morning addressed to Shae and inviting him to lunch at the Dulwich House that Friday. It is signed Artemis Bligh. In the note Artemis promises to send a cab for Shae if he is willing to attend.

And so it is that Shae finds himself deposited that Friday at twenty five minutes past midday in front of the Dulwich House, home to the Autumn court of the Southern Fields.

For details see Will’s earlier visit during Interlude One.

By the time Shae reaches the front door, knocks and is admitted by some sort of strange automaton which leads him, in jerky steps, down a corridor to a dining room over looking the rear garden.

Seated at the large table, at one of only two place settings, is Artemis Bligh, who stands to greet Shae when he enters. “Welcome. I hope you don’t mind me showing off my latest project” – he gestures towards the automaton – “but I made some amendments only yesterday and have been lacking an audience since. Please take a seat. Red or white?”

“I’ll have red if I may, please.” Shae makes his request as he takes his seat. “Your project looks very impressive.” Shae hides the fact that he doesn’t understand the automaton at all but is none-the-less impressed by it and watches it as it moves about.

“Thank you. I know that some of our kind find the idea of creating such toys disturbing. Those elementals unfortunate enough to have suffered at the hands of Keepers who favoured servants of artifice to those of pure flesh chief are among them, but others too draw parallels.” Artemis pours the wine himself rather than allowing his construct to do so. “I’ve always felt that testing our limits, our new limits I mean, is something we owe to ourselves in this new life, though. And if we go further in so doing than some of our more squeemish peers might prefer then that can only be their loss.”

Shae watches Artemis pour the wine. “I’m still learning what new limits i have before me now. I’ve discovered a few things, but I know it will take time.” He lifts his glass up and watches Artemis return to his own seat. “Thank you.” He brings his glass up close to his nose and inhales deeply of the wine as he waits for Artemis.

“To limits and surpassing them!” Artemis proposes the toast.

Shae returns the toast and takes a drink of his wine.

Once lunch has arrived, the Autumn courtier picks up the subject once again. “Of course, if one is to test limits and find ways to overcome them, it helps to have the support of those who have already undergone the process.”

“Well so far, I have the close support of Jack and DJ. They have both helped me.” He pauses and laughs. “At least I’ve been told that DJ is helping.”

“I can’t say that I know either of them well. Jack Squire seems like an ambitious young man, the sort that does well in Spring. As for your other friend, I understand that Summer has taken him in, which given his background doesn’t seem all that surprising, although I would have thought he’d be happier kow-towing to Sally then standing watch with Syud’s people around the river. But they both seem to overlook the simple fact that their existence has changed. They both strive to cling on to a familiar world and refuse to face the unknown, to face their fear, embrace it, and step boldly into a new world.” He pauses to let his words sink in before continuing in less dramatic tones, “We are not, and cannot ever be, what we once were. The only choice, it seems to me, is whether we confront that truth and all it entails, or whether we seek false comfort in familiar pursuits.”

“Is it somewhat better to not know what our past was then? Best not to try to find it again? Instead, to just move on with my life now, as it is?” He takes a deep breath. “Move on with life as it is now, don’t look back.” It was more a statement than a question.

“Whether you wish to know what your past was is a matter for you to decide. But that was a mortal past, and you are no longer that creature. Your soul is lost, torn away by the thorns, and what remains is the tattered remnants supported by a construct of pure Faerie magic. You should embrace your inhumanity and draw strength from it, that is the way forward. Not an easy road, to be sure, but for those who can endure it there is no better approach.”

Shae thinks for a moment before cautiously moving on. “I’m not sure how to yet.”

“Naturally not, but if you have the will then perhaps we can teach you.”

Shea smiles at this. With a slight eagerness, he responds. “I want to learn.”

“That’s always the most important step. Of course, the secrets we have to teach are not for everyone, and any prospective pupil of the Autumn court must be carefully assessed. We don’t waste our efforts on everyone who shows an interest, though, that you are here at all shows promise.”

“What would Autumn ask of me?”

“You must be prepared to devote yourself to your studies, and to proceed, if necessary, past the point of comfort. The power we can tap comes at a price, and many of our old customs and limitations must be willingly overcome. Not everyone is able to confront their fears and use that strength to become an object of fear themselves.”

“Well… I don’t know my limitations. Least, not that I am aware.” He takes a long drink of his wine, his food before him forgotten now. “If I can’t overcome my fears?”

“Then they will ultimately overcome you. And there will be a limit to what we can teach you. But fear of failure is a fear in itself. Confronting that fear, using it to give you strength in defiance of it is the very first step.”

Shae finishes his glass of wine. “I think that maybe it is best for me to find myself before I am ready for the Autumn court. Everything sounds right, but I need to be more sure before I begin. I don’t wish to fail… anyone.”

“Take your time, Shae, by all means. If the court of fear is right for you then you can seek us out when you are ready.”

Shae finishes off the last of his lunch and places his knife and fork together on the plate. “Thank you for the delicious lunch Artemis. And also, for your words. You have given me plenty to reflect on.”

* * *

Shae is helping out at the pub one evening, taking a pair of heavy black plastic bags out to the large bins behind the pub, when he becomes aware of a figure standing in the secluded spot.

Simon Sleet is a short swimmerskin beast with the sleek oily fur of an otter atop his head and in patches on his face in place of stubble, and a dark animal nose. “I hope you don’t mind me approaching you like this, but I was hoping that you would agree to speak privately with some friends of mine.”

Shae pauses for a brief moment and studies the figure before him. He deposits the bags into the bin and then turns back to the figure, moving into a darker spot himself. “I don’t mind.” He considers the figure a moment longer. “It’s Simon, right?”

“Right.” Simon extends a clammy, cold hand to Shae. “If you have a moment, come with me.” So saying, Simon Sleet sets off in a furtive dash away from the pub towards the nearby row of small terrace houses.

Shae looks back at the pub door, shrugs and then with a bit of a laugh, chooses to run after Simon.

Sleet slips down a narrow alleyway behind the houses, the path lined with bins but otherwise still tidy in this affluent area of London. Checking behind him to ensure that Shae is keeping up, he scurries to the end of the path and turns the corner into a slightly larger but still secluded space where he stops and turns to face Shae.

“It’s safe enough here, and safety is the greatest concern of our kind. We can never reclaim what was taken from us, but we can make sure that They don’t take anything else.” He pauses before continuing, “I understand that you have little memory of your life before Jack and his people found you?”

Shae nods as he catches his breath. “I have no memory and have yet to learn where to start.” Shae begins to look around the area where they have stopped.

Simon Sleet nods before continuing at a slight tangent, “Has anyone told you how few of our kind remain free of Them for long and never find the time to recover the memories they have lost?”

Shae looks back at Simon. “No.” He looks uncomfortable at the question. “What do you mean by not remain free? You mean taken back through the Hedge?”

“Not to put too blunt a point on it, yes. Most of the freehold like to convince themselves that they are safe, or at least pretend that’s the case, but the truth is that we lose people every year, especially those who are only recently returned and don’t yet know enough to protect themselves. It would be a scandal to admit it, but there are loyalists operating even in the Southern Fields. The only way to be safe is stay hidden, even from many of our own kind. Your friend Jack has a high profile, and look what that got him at the Market. Is that a risk you’re prepared to take?”

“Not at all.” Shae instinctively readjusts his hoodie to cover his face better. He looks back at Simon. “I… I think…” As he hesitantly proceeds, his face contorts slightly, before taking on a pale green hue. “I can keep myself hidden a bit. Maybe?” With a new recognisable guise, he smiles back at Simon.

“Perhaps you can at that,” Simon agrees with a smile, “But do you would be far safer with our support. All too often the more prominent courts use their influence to seduce new escapees, never explaining the dangers to them. But we like to offer security where we can, and once secure you can take the time to look back and recover what you have lost. And Winter can help you.”

“I like the sound of that.” Shae’s removes his disguise and wears on his face a broad smile. “Very much so.”

“Good. I must warn you that what we offer isn’t the easiest life. Safety comes at a price and you must be willing to step aside from the spotlight that your friends seem to relish, at least for now. Only a rare and brave few of our kind are granted full leave to operate openly with the freehold at large.”

The last words land hard on Shae and cause him to pause. “Do you mean by that that I’d have less to do with The Gentlemen as part of Winter?”

“That may be necessary. Many of us manage to maintain ties with friends in other courts, but most of the motleys are content to keep a lower profile than the Banksiders. Ask yourself, though, whether such a high profile is really in your own best interests. You’ve seen first hand the attention that Jack gathers – do you want to risk being taken again?”

“I… I can’t turn my back on my friends. They’ve been too good to me Simon.” Suddenly it all dawns on Shae. “They are all I have and have been good to me. I can’t accept this. I’m sorry.”

“I understand,” Simon says, in a voice that suggests he does. “When we first come back the need for any family is strong. But the offer remains open, we don’t turn our backs easily on those in need of our help. If you change your mind, or even want to talk further, then just ask.”

“Thank you Simon.” Shae smiles broadly and offers out his hand. “You’ve helped me to understand a lot tonight and I am very grateful for it. And I would like it if I can talk to you again… more often maybe.”

* * *

A week later, his mind made up, Shae walks steadily up the driveway to the Dulwich house of the Autumn court. He raises the heavy brass knocker on the door and waits while the echos of the knock fade out in the hallway beyond.

After a few minutes, the door opens a crack, and the pale face of a small darkling peers at him through the gap. “Yes?” the face asks, suspiciously.

“I’d like to see Artemis Bligh, if I may.” Shae smiles politely, holding in check his nervous excitement.

“Artemis is busy,” the face replies as the door begins to close.

A skill roll was involved – Shae cannot tell if this is true or not.

Shae doesn’t turn his gaze away. Unable to decipher the other’s expression, his smile remains. “Artemis has expecting me. So, if you will, please advise him I am here. My name is Shae Brock.” He then turns away slightly, waiting for the other to move off at his request.

“He’s not here,” the face repeats slowly, as if talking to an idiot. “But you can wait in the hall until he comes back if you want.” The door swings open to admit Shae, and the darkling shows him to a seat over to one side of the entrance hall. “Wait here.”

“Thank you.” He moves in and patiently sits and waits.

The clock ticking in the hallway, an elaborate grandfather clock in dark, aged wood, is the only sound that breaks the silence. Five minutes. Ten. Twenty. Nearly half an hour passes without a single living creature so much as entering the room until at last Shae hears the sound of footsteps coming from one of the two corridors leading away from the entrance. The footsteps are accompanied by a familiar voice, high pitched and slightly maniacal, talking to itself.

“What’s this, then?” Asks Jack O’Nine Tails when he sees Shae sitting. “A nice fresh bit o’ meat come to offer i’self up for dinner?” Jack pauses to lick the short curved knife in his hand, smearing blood over the blade from his cut tongue as he does so, and all the time keeping a close eye on Shae.

Shae looks ahead at Jack and thinks back to his first encounter with the short darkling. He studies Jack for a moment before replying. “I’ve come to accept Artemis’s offer.” He ignores the bloody blade that is being waved before him and keeps his eye on Jack.

“‘E’ll test ya first, you little shit. ‘E’ll let me ‘ave some time wiv you. Fun time. Gotta be nice and scared for when you join us, but you don’t gotta be in one piece. Knives’ll scare you proper.” Jack begins to approach Shae, spitting blood on the floor as he does so, and brandishing his knife.

Keeping silent, Shae rises from his seat and as he does so, his features begin to distort. Though he’s now standing, his height has been reduced so his head is about the same level as when he was seated. The features of his face and skin alters, presenting Jack with a perfect impression of himself. He adjusts his stance with one leg forward and both slightly bent while he brings both hands up slightly in a defensive position before him.

Jack, the real Jack, hisses slightly and circles to one side instead of approaching, re-evaluating his new target with a wicked grin on his face. “Cute trick, boy, but it won’t help you.”

Before Shae has a chance to respond, the tension is interrupted by a third figure appearing suddenly between them. The woman is pale, although not as pale as many darklings, and slim, although not gaunt as some. Smartly dressed in a tail coat and wearing a top hat she stands taller than either Jack or the altered Shae. Facing slightly more towards Shae’s tormentor, Malady Nox raises a hand and shakes her finger at the real Jack before turning sharply on her heel, beckoning Shae to follow with a quick crook of the same finger and setting off briskly down the nearest corridor.

After a brief pause, Shae relaxes his guard and lets his skin return to his pale shade of grey and his height and features revert back to his natural self. He then starts off after Malady Nox, ignoring Jack as he follows the lady.

Malady leads Shae along the corridor and around one corner to a door which apparently leads out onto a small enclosed and slightly sunken yard at the rear of the house. A door to some utility room, perhaps, stands closed on the left, and steps lead up to a gate set in a wooden fence that presumably leads to the garden beyond. Roaming free in the midst of the courtyard are no fewer than five large dogs. Their heads prick up as Shae stumbles forwards into the courtyard from a hard push. The door closes behind him and Malady is nowhere to be seen. The dogs begin to growl.

Panic over takes Shae as he rushes back and scrabbles at the door. Unable to open it again, he looks round for an exit, looking back at the dogs and then beyond for a means of escape, always checking where the dogs are. He maintains his futile efforts to open the door behind him, slamming his fists hard down on it, but keeps silent, fearful of setting the dogs off.

Shae loses track of exactly how long he sits there, wedged into the corner by the dogs. It feels like hours but is probably only moments, before a shudder overcomes him and his vision clears to reveal Malady standing before him in place of the dogs, the faintest hint of a smile at her tightly stitched mouth. She beckons once again and leads Shae through the gate in the fence opposite and out into the garden.

The garden beyond the fence is a study in contrasts. An area maybe an acre in size is bounded by a thick wall of foliage that hides the space from outside view. A neatly manicured lawn spotted with isolated trees, water features and flower beds coming into full bloom, all dissected by a series of gravel paths, takes up most of the space, but towards the rear of the garden the grass grows thick and long, bushes and trees merge into a dark tangle and a single path runs into the gloom beneath the twisted branches. It is this final path that Malady follows, moving rapidly into the shadows.

Following her Shae comes soon to a small, paved clearing between the trees that stinks of rot. The centre of the clearing is dominated by a large archway, maybe ten feet high and half that wide, that seems to be cast or hammered from dark iron and spotted with rust in spite of the obvious care that it taken to preserve it. In the clearing before the archway stands a small garden table, painted lattice top on a trio of slender legs.

Malady stands beside the table and points to a small box no larger than a match box wrapped in faded blue paper and tied with an old yellow ribbon. The tag attached to the box reads ‘eat me’ in an elegant, italic script.

Confused, Shae looks at Malady. “What is it?” Receiving no response other than a renewed point at the small parcel, he tentatively reaches forward and picks it up. Holding it before him, he looks at Malady again, seeing impatience written upon her face. Slowly, he undoes the bow and opens up the parcel.

The package is almost weightless. Inside the wrapping is a slightly grubby matchbox which, judging by the feel of it, contains no matches, but opens to reveal a live spider trapped within. As the box opens the spider immediately makes a bid for freedom, crawling swiftly up Shae’s hand and starting up his arm.

Cautiously, Shae puts the spider up to his mouth and then, with his eyes closed tight, he eats it.

The look on Malady’s face is hard to evaluate, but on a less encumbered face it might be described as happy. Once Shae had swallowed, she produces a prompt card from one pocket with an oath to serve the Court of Fear written out in the same neat hand…

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Interlude Two - Before Dawn

Fourty minutes before dawn, Henry stops the car by the graveyard fence. The barest hint of grey is touching the eastern sky and aside from one early riser walking a large dog, the streets appear deserted. There are certainly none of the Lost still abroad.

The graveyard itself is as silent as befits its nature. Only two changelings remain outside the gate – Sebandus stands on guard and offers a strained smile as the motley enter the gate, while Jack O’Nine Tails smirks viciously but also says nothing. At least until the Gentlemen have just past him by, when a sudden “Boo!” is followed by a nasty cackle.

Inside the gate, much of the market has closed and gone – stalls and small huts alike vanishing to wherever the hobs come from. One or two stragglers remain, hastily piling unsold goods into barrows, one pair loading a large box covered by heavy cloth onto an open wagon.

The clearing where Jack sang is entirely devoid of hobs save for the tailor and his booth at the far side, where he sits at a table apparently polishing buttons on Jack’s jacket. The centre of the clearing, however, is far from empty. A extensive picnic has been laid out atop what appears to be a large Persian rug. Three dishevelled figures, one male and two female, dressed in little more than the rags of what may once have been expensive attire are hard at work consuming the rich food, while La Belle Dame sits on what could only be considered a throne watching them and facing the Gentlemen as they arrive, her back to the tailor.

“Welcome, Algernon. Won’t you and your friends have something to eat while we wait for your tailor to finish?”

Having spent the last few hours plucking up dutch courage and steeling his nerve, Jack just about retains control as he confronts his former Keeper. The inhuman torment and torture at her hand remains as a vivid scar upon his soul after their recent meeting but it is now covered by a bandage of resolve and determination. Forcing himself to maintain an expression of mild interest and gentlemanly civility he replies.

“Unfortunately not, my dear. I know what happens when I accept one of your invitations. A mistake I do not intend to make a second time.” He glances down at the poor souls at her feet and a flash of recognition mixed with extreme sympathy and guilt overcomes him – names still elude him but these wretched figures were his fellow captives. He tears his gaze away and turns to the Hob.

“I see you recognise your fellows, my dear Algernon, my pet. Won’t you say hello to them? I’m sure they miss you – Graham even calls out your name in his nightmares, cursing you. The poor boy has been filling in for you since you left, his punishment for letting you escape and not having the sense to follow.”

“I will not play your games Madam.”

“My dearest boy, after nearly one hundred years by my side you should know that everyone plays my games, whether they want to or not.” The words are soft, but the tone is menacing. “I will give you a gift, if you return to me. Graham, perhaps – I will let him go. Or Sarah, if you prefer, or even little Jessica.”

Jack gives her a sad smile. “Very clever. You know what strings to pull, but sadly it will not work; I can smell your fear from here. I escaped, they know that. It is only a matter of time before they follow. You want me back to make an example of me, to ensure they remain subservient to your whims. I am no longer yours to command.” Jack turns to the hob. “Is the suit ready friend? I have a pressing . . . engagement.” He placed an emphasis on the last word.

The hob looks up at Jack and seems to be about to speak before the Dame raises her hand slightly without even turning to look at him. The hob falls instantly silent, returning to his work polishing the buttons.

“You may have your suit when we are done – you can wear it back to my bower.” The Belle Dame’s smile twists slightly before she continues, “I need not fear them leaving, Algernon. They love me. And they love each other. Graham’s duties for letting you escape are nothing compared to the suffering of Elizabeth – There was definitely an Elizabeth too, Jack recalls; she had dark hair and cried when she remembered her family – so I need not trust to their love of me alone to hold them any longer. You taught them to depend on one another, didn’t you, Algie, and now they do. Jessica, for example, depends on Sarah to give me no reason to wear her skin for a season. I should thank you for that, but I have no fear of them following your example.

“Are you sure you won’t come back to be with them once more?”

With his anger barely held in check Jack reaches for the suit and manages to smile at the Hob. “Thank you, it appears to be a fine piece of work. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” Bundling the suit under his arm he turns towards the exit. “Good day to you Madam,” and starts to walk away from her.

The Hob instantly begins to pack his goods with surprising speed, the entire hut folding down into smaller boxes which he hefts onto a long, low barrow.

The Belle Dame calls out to Jack as he and the Gentlemen make their way out of the clearing and towards the exit. “I know where you are now, Jack Squire, and one day soon you WILL come to me willingly!”

Jack sets a fast pace out of The Hedge, but not too fast to appear panicked. Within moments The Gentlemen are back in the graveyard and heading towards the waiting car. Jack smiles unconvincingly at his friends concerned faces. “Well, it could have been a lot worse.”

* * *

Jack closes the door of his office behind him and finally drops the blasé facade he maintained throughout the morning while he and his Motley discussed the events at the market. He pours himself a large glass of rum and after taking a sip holds the cool glass to his forehead. How could this have happened? After all this time she had caught up with him and now knew where he was. So much had come flooding back today, so much was clearer than it had been since the day he escaped. How he wished it hadn’t.

As he closed his eyes he could almost see the pain on the faces of the other captives and knew instantly the anguish they felt at being held in the clutches of that she-devil, but worse even that that was the realisation that the pain had been mixed with a sickeningly devoted pleasure.

Seeing the new suit hanging up on the bookshelf Jack steps over and feels the new golden stitching. “You had better be worth it.” Jack walks over to his desk and sits down. He dials a number on his phone, one he knows by heart…

* * *

Jack wakes the next morning as the sun blasts through his bedroom window, his senses overwhelmed by the scent of sweet, fresh flowers. He opens his eyes to find an alabaster shoulder protruding from the petal strewn sheets, nestled beneath blossoming hair the colour of dark rich earth. He pulls Lily close, the memories of day before temporarily banished…

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Interlude Two - Market

The word around the Freehold is that the next market will be on the Tuesday a week after the May. Tensions are still running higher than normal with many of the Lost openly proclaiming that they’ll be giving the market a wide berth until the situation settles, and almost as many, notably those with close ties to Spring or Summer, seeming to relish the added hint of danger. Calmer heads, those who have lived through other periods of heightened Keeper activity, seem agreed that the market is always safe ground, although none are aware of any explicit rule to that effect.

The Tuesday market meets in a more cultivated corner of the Hedge accessed through a gate in Nunhead Cemetery. The cemetery itself is conveniently located between the three court bastions of Greenwich to the East, Elephant & Castle to the North and Dulwich to the West and as such is typically more popular with the freehold in general than the Friday market held on the river. Shortly before sundown a steady flow of motleys and individual changelings can be seen moving down the narrow streets, slipping carefully between the iron railings of the high fence surrounding the site and disappearing inside to the gate that lies hidden in a small copse.

The Gentlemen of Bankside join the procession filing towards the Gate. Jack seems to be in his usual high spirits. “So Shae, this will be your first official public appearance at a Freehold function as we can probably rule out the May.” Jack produces a friendly smile after mentioning Shae’s recent escape, then becomes more serious as he lowers his voice. “A word of warning dear boy, these merchants cannot be entirely trusted. Your common market trader would stuff their own grandmother and sell her as an armchair if he thought it would turn a profit.”

Shae nods his head in understanding as he listens carefully to Jack.

Will offers a pointy-toothed grin. “Don’t let them sell you a line. Or pressure you into something you’re going to regret later.”

“Freaky bunch n’ all”, DJ observes. “Still, useful lot to get to know for access to those ‘special items’.

“Absolutely my good fellow. Which is precisely the reason I am interested in visiting the Market today. I intend to do some real haggling today Gentlemen.” Jack has trouble hiding the concern in his voice for a second as the Hedge Gate comes into view. The Gentlemen of Bankside had suffered some bad experiences with them of late.

Shae looks at DJ and asks. “Special items?” Then looks back to Jack as he continues on with the reason they are here.

Jack dances a couple of light steps as he recites. “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?" He bows low as he finishes, an impish grin spreading across his face. “They sell almost anything you can think of, mainly Hedge Bounty purloined from deep within The Hedge; Hedge Fruits, Hedgespun garments and other enchanted items ranging from entirely useless nicknacks to legendary artifacts of great value. Be sure you know what you are buying and exactly what it costs.”

“I think I shall just watch and learn this time Jack.” Shae responds, still smiling at Jacks recital. “I wouldn’t know what to do or where to begin.” He pauses for a moment. “What do we buy with? Goblins wouldn’t want normal currency, would they?”

Jack continues his recital almost as if he knew what Shae was going to ask. “Good folk, I have no coin; To take were to purloin: I have no copper in my purse, I have no silver either, And all my gold is on the furze that shakes in windy weather above the rusty heather." Jack almost sings the next part in an odd croaky voice. “You have much gold upon your head, They answered altogether: “Buy from us with a golden curl.” She clipped a precious golden lock, She dropped a tear more rare than pearl…” He laughed at this last phase of verse causing a few straggling fae to turn their heads in their direction. "Their currency is odd to say the very least. They will accept a promise, a pledge, a memory, a stolen kiss, a wish, a song, the moon from the sky or your first born child. Be very wary of their requests.”

“A promise?” Shae questions in disbelief and looks at DJ for support. “Their requests? I think I shall watch your lead Jack.”

“Right you are to do so, li’l Lost!” a harsh cackling voice interrupts from behind. A voice that mixes the promise of pain with mirth at that thought. “A tasty dupe like you would wind up back with Them before you could unpack whatever trinket you bought with your freedom.” The figure skulking beside the path is clad in a hooded cloak that does little to conceal the sharp, stunted body within. A grin that borders on the maniacal leers out from the shadow of the cowl as Jack O’Nine Tails appraises the Gentlemen.

“Why don’t you leave ‘im with me? I promise to take good care of ‘im ‘til you Gentlemen” – and the distaste behind the word is palpable – “are done.”

Jack shoots a warning glance at Will and DJ while stepping towards the cowled darkling and bows slightly, opening his hands in a peaceful gesture. “That is a very generous offer Jack. I have, however, promised to show Shae around the Market and I always keep a promise. Happy hunting in the Market Jack.” Jack turns to walk away from the malicious little fae hoping to put a swift end to the encounter before it sours.

“Bunch of faggots!” Jack calls after the Gentlemen, clearly annoyed to have had his entertainment cut short so soon. “I’ll ‘ave some fun with the new boy yet the instant you ain’t watching ‘im!”

DJ turns and moves towards Jack, “You wanna fuckin’ start something, start something, don’t just give it mouth if you ain’t got the stones to back it up”. He stops just shy of their aggressor and puts on a determined face, daring Jack to come at him.

Nine Tails lets out a slow hiss and the mouth inside his hood stretches into a wide, sharp-toothed grin. “I’ll start something when I’m good and ready, when you and your friends least expect it. Then we’ll see which of us is all bark when he has a motley to back him up, and which of us has the real bite.”

DJ continues to stare at the hooded creature in front of him for a few moments until the Darkling makes a sudden snapping snarl in his face. Utterly unperturbed DJ continues to face him down and Nine Tails steps back with a mocking bow, turns swiftly and fades into the growing shadows. The Darkling’s departure eases some of the tension and DJ returns to his companions.

Squire looks slightly concerned at the exchange. “He is a nasty piece of work and not to be underestimated.”

“He’s a fucking bell-end”, DJ wanders past where the rest of the Gentlemen are stood with a moody air.

[They are both right, but personally I feel DJ has the better turn of phrase.]

Will regards the point where Jack O’Nine Tails vanished with a flat stare as the Gentlemen move on, tapping one black nail against his trouser leg. “He can keep his nastiness to himself Jack. We’ve got problems enough.”

As they walk away, Shae leans over towards DJ and whispers. “What’s with him?”

“You know I said it helps to find something to do, some kind of profession or hobby? Well Jack O’Nine Tails has made it his hobby to be as vindictive as possible. He really is a spiteful individual and should be given an extremely wide berth,” warned Jack.

Shae smiles. “Each to their own.” He walks to catch up with Jack. “Umm… Jack? Without sounding too stupid. You said that a promise could be used as currency at the market?” He pauses and looks a bit embarrassed. “what happens if a promise is broken?”

“That is a very good question Shae. The Glamour we channel all come from pledges, contracts, oaths etc. The ancient contracts that have bound themselves into the very core of The Lost are immutable and constant. Payment for those is usually pure Glamour or strength of will, but there are always catches or loopholes if you will that will allow us to produce the desired results for free.”

“So if anyone asks me to promise something, I need to be very careful?” Shae asks with an edge of concern in his voice.

“In a word, yes. The term Goblin is used to describe any slightly twisted magic. The traders we are about to meet are not all short with green skin and pointy ears, no offence William. They will be a mixture of Hobgoblins; creature who reside in the Hedge, fae like us and maybe even some mortals who have dabbled in Magic. The point is nothing is to be entirely trusted. Many of the Goblin fruits will have some odd side effects and Goblin Contracts have some twists to them. Just have your eyes open and ask one of us to check anything before entering into an agreement.” Replied Jack in normal tones now that his namesake was out of earshot.

Shae nods his head. “I will. Thank you Jack.” He looks around as the party continues walking on, not actually paying attention to what is about him but instead thinking hard on all that Jack has impressed upon him.

* * *

The gate to the hedge is guarded by Sebandus, who gives a polite nod to the motley and a murmur of acknowledgement to DJ as they pass. Once through the worn, stone archway the path opens into a modest clearing in the Hedge itself, perhaps twenty feet across, with numerous short pathways heading off towards other openings in the dense greenery. The scene is lit by all manner of lanterns hanging in both the foliage and over individual stalls, while a clear dark sky blazes with the light from countless stars and a full, bright moon.

All of the clearings, including the first, are crammed with stalls of all varieties; brightly coloured barrows laden with goods sit beside rough planks laid across wooden crates filled with wonders. Here and there throughout the market are small tents and the occasional caravan, and wandering hobs with trays supported by straps around their necks wander to and fro in search of customers. There is no organised pattern to the market that changelings can perceive, individual vendors seem to set up shop wherever there is space to fit them making it a challenge to locate any favoured stalls.

[While I personally strive for originality, it appears that my NPCs are content to shamelessly raid the works of Neil Gaiman for inspiration. What is a GM to do?]

Before the Gentlemen have the chance to move more than a few yards inside the market, a small figure with a tray of oddly shaped pies oozing the orange juice of some goblin fruit bustles up. He stands only a little over five feet tall and is dressed in what looks like a ragged morning suit, complete with tarnished top hat. “Staying alert in the market can be hungry work, gents! One of my pies will keep you well fed and alert. Only cost ya the memory of your breakfast. You won’t get a better offer than that, any cheaper and I’d be breaking my oaths as a salesman!”

[And Terry Pratchett too, it seems!]

“Ooo, Pie”, DJ wanders up to the little goblin, having seemingly forgotten about his encounter with Nine Tails only moments previously now that the chance at a reasonably free meal was available. “Sorted, breakfast this morning was 2 fags and some leftover Tennants, can’t be any worse than that”.

Jack muses for a moment. “I quite enjoyed my breakfast to be perfectly honest, but in for a penny…” He reaches down and picks out a nice pie.

Shae smiles and follows suit. “Was only a couple slices of Marmalade on toast.” And he picks himself a pie, proud of making his first purchase.

Will, then, is the only Gentleman to demur. “No thanks… I ate quite well.” He does his best not to look too dubious about the pies, but has clearly decided that prudence is the better part of valour in this instance.

[And so it came to pass that Jack ignored his advice to Shae of only moments earlier, and Will alone was left with the memory of what he ate for breakfast. DJ is temporarily off the lager and cigarettes (quite the health kick!), Shae has no inclination towards toast and marmalade, and Jack wouldn’t know what to do with coffee, orange juice, bacon or croissants if he saw them. On the plus side, those three do get a small bonus to dice rolls in the market]

* * *

Walking into the relatively open space in the path between the trader’s stall Jack starts to look around for a specific tailor dealing in hedgespun garments. “Well here we are Gentlemen, let us shop!”

Unable to see the particular tailor he desires Jack starts to wander the stalls, moving further from the gate, and deeper into the market. “I am heading in this direction. Anyone care to join me?”

“I’m going for a wander over here, catch up with ya later”, calls DJ.

Shae watches DJ disappear off into the crowd then looks at his clothes and mutters almost to himself. “Well, I did come to get some clothes of my own.” He then looks back to Jack. “I think I’ll be sticking with you here again, if I may Jack.”

“Of course old man, pleasure to have you along.” Jack replies as he nods to a trio of Spring Court fae from the Freehold and starts to browse the stalls.

The path through the stalls leads away from the first clearing through a narrow tunnel where the hedge is held back by a heavy wooden lattice that runs alongside and over the path. After a few yards lit only by lanterns suspended from the tunnel roof, Jack and Shae emerge into a clearing considerably larger than the first. A number of more permanent stalls line the edges, purpose build shacks generally available to the earliest arrivals display an array of goods. The centre of the clearing is home to a pair of marquees serving some sort of food. A large number of hobs are milling around together with maybe a dozen members of the freehold.

Off to one side of the clearing, Jack spots a few stalls displaying bales of fine cloth and a few garments woven from it so he wanders towards the finest looking stall and starts to peruse the wares.

An endlessly different array of hob faces seek to catch Jack’s eye as he heads over to the stalls and begins to peruse, and all manner of voices make him offers, “A bale of finest moonspider silk for you first born daughter! Come, Sir, no man needs a daughter!”, “Velvet and oak moss as worn by the Lost Prince of Henderland, won’t cost you an arm and a leg.”, “Cloth sewn from the dawn on the first day of winter – just the thing to keep you cool with summer approaching. Make me an offer?”. It seems that all manner of cloth might be available here if someone wants to commission an outfit.

Catching the attention of one of the Hobs Jack asks “I wonder if you have anything in the way of a protective textile. A material that can ward off both blades and bullets while remaining supple and stylish?”

The hob in question, a slender, dapper fellow, looks at Jack closely before asking, “What colour did you have in mind?”

Jack smooths down the forest green, faux military Hedgespun suit he is wearing, “Something along these lines would be perfect.”

“Green?” The hob seems alarmed, his slender triple-jointed fingers covering his mouth in shock. “So functional and aggressive – if you want to wear a suit like that then there hardly seems any point in hiding it. Are you sure you wouldn’t want something in a nice deep blue? I could weave something truly unique combining shavings of ice from purest unending winter with the wake of a gilded sky-yacht… It might clash with your hair, though.” So saying the hob reaches out a curiously long fingered hand to feel a length of Jack’s hair. “Of course, if you were to offer the hair in payment that would hardly be an issue.”

Jack looks aghast at the very suggestion of losing his hair. “Blue I can live with, although I fear it may clash with my skin. The hair I will keep, I am sure we can agree some other payment. Can you show me a sample of the shade?”

The hob’s eyes light up at the prospect of a sale, and he strides towards the small tent behind the stall. He begins pulling out some blue cloth in a variety of shades ad a large wooden case with a frost tinged lock. Pulling on some gloves he opens the case to reveal a number of icey shards in differing sizes, each shot through with all manner of blues and purples ranging from electric and neon colours to those barely a whisper away from black. The cloth he indicates is itself a pale blue threaded with faint hints of silver and gold.

“Now, we would need some padding around the ice to protect the skin, but the ice should form around the cloth enough to provide some protection without stifling movement. Shall I put you down for one suit or two?”

Jack feels the cloth but keeps his expression neutral. “Not too bad, I think I can pull that off, but it is less than perfect. Let us first discuss payment.”

“Unending Ice isn’t easy to come by, it claims as many as try to claim it and fewer suppliers risk the trip each year, it seems. Wake thread is more available, but this is an exceptionally fine weave. And the work itself is challenging, it would take up much of my time. Why, you’d be lucky to find anyone prepared to part with a suit such as I could make you for less than the life blood of a fair-haired, first-born child.”

Jack coughs and clutches his chest. “What! The life blood of a fair-haired, first-born child! Surely that is a jest dear boy. Why, I was offered a similar suit not two seasons back for a full rendition of Heart of Oak!”

The hob smirks at the audacity of Jack’s claim, “If that is so then you should have bought it there and then. But these days, with the trouble brewing among Them, I can’t do the work for less than the first sheering of a full grown ram and the answer to a riddle that no one has asked. But if you throw in your rendition of Heart of Oak then I might be able to find a way to turn the suit oak leaf green.”

A hob on the adjacent stall gives a loud snort of derision.

Turning his head toward the interruption Jack asks the hob. “Do you have something to add to this exchange friend?”

“‘Ee’ll never be able to make that suit green, not for all the ballads in the world beyond. And I dare say the ‘ole thing ‘ll be unbearably cold if ‘ee wants to put that much ice in it.” The speaker is a squat hob, only a little over four foot tall and almost as broad again. He peers up at jack with small red-rimmed eyes set in an otherwise toadish face beneath a cloth cap. “If it’s a new suit you’re wantin’ then you’re goin’ the wrong way about it.”

This time it is the taller hob’s turn to snort as he crosses his arms in a show of evident disdain.

With his attention fixed on the toad-like hob Jack asks. “Please enlighten me, my good man. How would be the best way to go about it?”

His blunt fingers begin to pick at Jack’s coat as he speaks, “Well, you wanna keep the line o’ the jacket as it is, that means no thick or bulky additions. No paddin’. You want to keep the same sort of colour, that means no exotic ingredients, or at least only a limited list, an’ ‘ee won’t ‘ave ‘em. You don’t wanna look too bright and shiny, that’ll draw Their attention. You probably don’ even wan’ a new suit, you wanna get that one enchanted nice an’ subtle, like.”

Jack smiles broadly, taps his cane on the ground and points the handle towards the Hob. “You, Sir, have hit the nail squarely upon its head. That is precisely what I have in mind. Do carry on.” He turns fully away from the other hob and steps towards the new purveyor.

The short hob smirks over his shoulder at his taller rival before leading Jack towards his own stall. “The secret is in these ‘ere threads, woven from the tail of a unicorn untouched by mortal ‘and, an’ the ‘air of a nymph cut whilst bathing in the midday sun, soaked in the blood of a dragon and seared in the fire of the phoenix’s rebirth. Such enchantments they can ‘old and so strong is they as ta render the cloth they bind proof against any blow. And don’t the golden colour go nice with green?”. As he speaks the goblin pulls out a coil of rich golden thread tinged with the slightest hint of red.

[I’m wondering if anyone will spot that one, certainly none of the players did.]

Jack tries his best to hide his desire for the gossamer strands. The red/gold thread would finish the suit perfectly; piping fit for an admiral. He wrinkles his nose before replying. “That might work, indeed it might. But at what cost?”

“Ah, well, it don’t come cheap, do it? Them’s a selection of ‘ard to find ingredients. Let’s say the song you was promisin’, together wiv one of me choosin’ will cover the cost of the work. But the cost of the materials is another matter. I could always do wiv’ the petals from a perfect rose, that’d cover one of them. I’m open to offers on the rest – what sort of stuff can you provide that I might use?”

“For the work, you have a deal. Unfortunately I have no petals from a perfectly formed rose. I do, however, have the eye-piece of Sir Francis Drake; used when sighting the mighty Spanish Armada approaching the English Channel.” Jack’s description of the historically significant, but otherwise mundane item is full of enthusiasm.

“Is it… old?”

Jack shakes his head and looks and Shae, slapping him upon the back. “Is it old, he asks!” He repeats the question to the Hob. “Is it old? It is from the reign of the greatest Monarch this green and pleasant land has seen, The Virgin Queen; Elizabeth I. It has seen more than four centuries, its case has felt the spray of all seven seas and has heard the death roll of a thousand guns.” Jack really starts to get into it, pouring his heart and soul into the performance.

The hob’s greedy eyes light up at Jack’s elaborate description of the telescope. “Done!” He declares. “The eye-piece for the ingredients and your songs for the work.” He spits in his palm and holds out his hand to Jack.

Jack takes the outstretched hand and shakes it vigorously. “You have yourself a deal, old boy! I shall return within the hour with the suit, the eye-piece and my baritone in fine fettle. He bounces his cane on the ground, catches it and turns on his heel. “Come along Shae, we shall return presently.”

Shae is still in awe at what he saw Jack run through with the Hobs. He nods his head and turns to follow Jack but stops when an article of cloth catches his eye. He tentatively reaches out and feels the dark material.

[What?]

Jack stops and takes Shae by the elbow, steering him away from the stall. “We have no time for dilly dallying. We will be back before you know it.”

Shae looks back at Jack and nods, falling into step with his lead, but taking a further glance back at the stall. “Did you see how it seemed to disappear Jack?” he whispers.

“Sorry? What? Disappear? No I must have missed that.” Jack replied offhandedly, clearly not listening to Shae in his single minded determination to fetch payment for his new suit.

Shea looks back over his shoulder towards the stall. “The hoo…” he turns back to carry on walking with Jack. “It was a hooded top that just seemed to vanish. Can’t see it now. Funny that.” He gives a half hearted chuckle to himself and continues to walk on following Jack out of the market, not really minding whether Jack heard him or not.

* * *

[Meanwhile]

Will pauses briefly as the others head further into the market, feeling no particular urge to shop. “Maybe I should have gone with Jack… oh well,” he mutters. He allows his feet to guide him around the market, waiting for something or someone to catch his interest.

Half an hour later, Will is still wandering between the bewildering array of stalls when a soft voice from close behind him says, “Hello, Will”. Turning he sees Darla standing quite close with a distant look in her eyes.

“Darla?” Will jumps back a little, surprised. “I haven’t seen you since… the coronation, right? Are you keeping well?”

“Oh, quite well, I suppose.” Something about Darla seems less vibrant than the rest of the marketplace, as if she is slightly washed out even beyond her normal shyness and pale complexion. “I’m been asked to ask you… that is, some of us feel… erm, would you mind not bringing that with you here?” She indicates the sword slung over Will’s shoulder.

“I’d never want to upset you, Darla. If it’s a problem having the sword here I don’t mind going – I haven’t seen anything I fancy anyway. Why does it bother you though?”

“It’s not me personally, well, it’s not just me. It’s just that it’s… well, after the May, you know? And what one of Them said. And it makes people feel a little nervous, so they asked me to tell you, or ask you rather, since I kinda know you.”

Seeing how pale Darla is Will desperately searches for something reassuring to say, but comes up blank. “Err… surely Nemi isn’t one of the people who feel that way, right? I can’t imagine her afraid of anything, honestly. Let alone Them, or the sword… or me.”

Darla manages only to look uncomfortable and two things occur to Will; part of Darla’s discomfort comes from her own fear of him and/or the sword, but her somewhat ephemeral mien stems from the fact that she literally is less vibrant, for some reason, than the majority of other changelings present.

Will’s eyes narrow as that thought takes him. “It just seems a bit cowardly, you know? Sending you when they could have come talked to me themselves if it’s such a bother. Who did you say it was again?”

“Oh, well, it wasn’t Nemi, just some people I know. They just thought that maybe you might be more willing to listen to me since you know me and… um… well, you don’t know them, I guess.” She seems to consider for a moment before adding, “I’ve not seen Nemi for a while anyway.”

“What? You two not together? I never would have expected that! What happened?”

“She’s been busy, I guess. I mean, I think so. She has other friends now. She spends most of her time in Dulwich so she moved in there a few weeks back. It’s ok, though, I’ve got new friends too.” She offers a shy smile as if to support the fact.

“Me among them, I hope.” Will tries on a lopsided smile in return. “You can count on me if you need… well, if you need anything, right?”

“Oh, yes. I mean, thanks Will. And you can do the same, with me, I mean.” There is a pause before Darla continues, “Well, you’ll think about what I said, about the sword?”

“Sure thing. Look… is something else the matter? You look pale,” Will tries a bit desperately.

“Oh, no! I mean, nothing’s the matter. It’s just something I’m learning. It’s really working?”

“Err, I suppose so. You’re supposed to look ill, then?”

Darla offers another shy smile as she turns to leave, “I’m not ill, silly boy, I’m hiding!” And with that she steps neatly behind a passing ogre and into the crowd beyond.

* * *

[Coming soon – What DJ got up to in the market before Jack decided to make a spectacle of himself]

* * *

Within the hour, Jack returns to the market wearing a fresh set of clothes, carrying both his green suit and the promised telescope, and with Shae in tow. At the sight of the telescope in its case the hob’s eyes light up and he reaches out a pair of eager hands long before Jack is within reach.

Jack approaches the Hob and reverently hands over the relic and then the suit. “Here is your part payment my friend. Would you like the songs now?” Jack asks, clearing his throat.

“Wait, wait! Lemme get my little recording box ready first!” The hob pulls out an old cassette recorder from beneath his stall, pats down his pockets until he discovers a battered tape (along with a couple of sticky glace mints, a keyring bearing the slogan ‘Visit Rye – 1066 Country’ and a torn notebook covered front and back in illegible scrawl) which he then inserts into the player and, with a nod to Jack, presses deliberately on both the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons.

With one hand on his chest Jack begins to burn with rich emerald flames that flare across his body while his eyes glow with a golden light. The eyes of fae and Hobs alike are drawn to him as he starts to sing loud and clear, for all to hear;

“Come, cheer up, my lads, ‘tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?”
Heart of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men,
we always are ready; Steady, boys, steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again…”

Shae pauses for a minute and then begins to look about the stall again for the hooded garment he saw earlier. His hand tingles slightly as he picks up what appears to be some sort of knitted poncho, and he feels the soft fabric of the hoody moments before it shimmers back into visibility beneath it. His smile is broad and plain for all to see. Still holding the hoody, he turns back and excitedly starts to ask. “Jack! What do I…” But he soon realises that there is no chance of him getting through to his mentor, currently lost in his own enthusiasm. Shae turns back both excited and nervous and mutters to himself, “Can’t be that difficult. Can it?”

“We never see the French but we wish them to stay,
They always see us and they wish us away;
If they run, we will follow, we will drive them ashore,
And if they won’t fight, we can do no more…”

Jack is in mid flow and largely oblivious, but Shae, looking around for someone to help with his purchase, notices a large crowd of hobs, and a fair few changelings among them, gathering to listen to Jack sing. One changeling in particular, a female fairest that Shae doesn’t recognise, seems to be paying him particularly close attention. As he watches her, Shae is struck by a sudden hollowness in his stomach, as if the floor had just dropped out beneath him. The sense that she is working some sort of potent magic is accompanied by the certainty that he has seen this woman somewhere before.

Shae tries to shrink back into the shadows but there is no where for him to go. He looks over to Jack but there is no chance of gaining his attention. He turns back to the woman. He pauses and then with renewed vigour he gathers himself and boldly approaches the watcher.

Shaking off a compulsion to watch Jack, Shae approaches the woman as she joins the crowd in applause, although her applause is slower, almost mocking, in contrast to the genuine enthusiasm of the other spectators. As her hands move, he catches sight of an ugly scar, like a large burn mark, where a wedding ring would normally sit. Almost at the same time Shae becomes aware of a gentle heat in his pocket.

Shae’s advance towards the woman falters. He reaches in to his pocket with his left hand and feels the ring heating up. His advance comes to a full stop and he can’t take his eyes off of her.

Turning slowly to face Shae, the woman inhales deeply. She fixes her eyes, solid orbs of black, on the frozen changeling and her mouth breaks into a smile that looks at once both content and cruel.

Shae removes his hand from his pocket, keeping the ring hidden and instinctively adopts a defensive stance.

Spotting the movement and stepping slowly towards him, the woman asks the obvious question in a silky, suggestive voice, “What has it got in its pocket?”

[Sue me.]

Shae reaffirms his stance without realising he is doing so. “Nothing.” he replies, attempting to hide his lie behind his unyielding position. “Who are you?” he asks boldly as the woman continues her advance.

Meanwhile, the hob is congratulating Jack on his performance and handing him a sheet of paper. “This one ain’t my first choice but you’d best sing it quick if you want t’ see your friend safe,” he explains, pushing Jack forward towards the audience once again.

Jack seems slightly flustered at the unusual remark from the Hob but seeing the urgent look on his face he skims the sheet and begins to sing:

“O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too…”

There is clearly more than just the lyrics recorded on the page as Jack seems to know the tune by heart. The haunting melody is in stark contrast to rousing military tune he has just finished.

“I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

As soon as Jack begins to sing, the woman stops dead in her approach to Shae and turns to listen.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—

The woman joins in on the female part, her soft, clear voice at odds with the twisted look of bitter resentment on her face:

“I love thee true.”

And Jack continues, unfazed by the unrehearsed duet:

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

Without warning the gathered Freehold members all join in, practically shouting the final lines of the stanza:

They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”

At this line the woman shudders visibly and Shae is struck by the sudden need to run, get away, get out of her sight.

Keeping his guard up, and resisting the urge to flee, Shae backs away from the woman while she looks away. When the distance between them is enough, he melts away into what shadows he can find. Once he reaches the safety of the shadows, he reaches in to his pocket to reaffirm that the ring, now much cooler, is still with him.

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.”

As Jack finishes singing the entire market falls silent. No voice breaks the stillness, and even the subtle chatter of birds and buzzing of insect in the Hedge is absent. At some point during the song, the crowd of assembled Lost and hobs has stepped away from the woman, leaving a small space around her as she stands staring at Jack in impotent fury.

“You!” she hisses in a harsh voice that contrasts shockingly with her soft appearance. Then she seems to reconsider and continues in a far sweeter tone, “Jack, my precious, how kind of you to honour me with such a commanding performance.”

Jack’s smile fades as the pieces fall into place, this is the day he had feared for so long; finally coming face to face with The Lady. His knees buckle slightly, although he remains on his feet, his pupils dilate and the emerald skin on his face deepens a shade. Jack also remembers where he is as the faces of the crowd come back into focus and he attempts to subdue the multitude of emotions that are swelling within his chest ready to burst forth. He takes a noticeably deep breath and bows to The Lady; “A pleasure.” He replies through gritted teeth before turning back to the Hob and whispering in hushed tones. “I believe payment has been made friend. When will the item be ready for collection?”

The hob seems about to reply when he is interrupted. “Will you now return with me to our home in the deep woods, my beautiful boy?” The Lady’s voice rings out clear in the silence that still fills the clearing, apparently unconcerned by Jack’s reluctance to continue the conversation.

Jack ignores the question keeping his back turned to Her and the silence builds to a crescendo before Jack snaps at the Hob. “I asked you a question friend, when shall I return for the suit?”

The hob stares past Jack at the figure behind him, but manages to squeeze out an answer, “I’ll ‘ave it ready ‘alf an ‘our before the cock crows, sir.”

By now the silence is beginning to break as the assembled changelings and no few of the hobs make a hasty move away from The Lady, Jack and anyone else associated with them.

Jack composes himself for a moment before turning, his face seems to have returned to some semblance of normality. His voice, however, has no hint of Jack’s usual cheerful lilt. “Thank you for your kind offer My Lady. But I will have to respectfully decline.” His expression darkens slightly as his resolve grows. “I am no longer yours, and never shall be again. Good day to you.” He turns and walks hastily away towards the entrance, followed swiftly by Shae.

“I’ll see you half an hour before the cock crows, my sweet!” She calls after Jack.

Jack’s steps slow slightly at this remark, before continuing to the Hedge Gate and back to the churchyard beyond.

Shae quickly follows Jack through the Hedge Gate, not once looking back behind him. Once the motley are clear of the Gate, Shae runs up to Jack. “Jack. I need to tell you about something… important.” He looks about cautiously and doesn’t wait for a response, instead he swiftly moves on to the waiting car.

* * *

By the time he reaches the car the other three motley members are waiting in the shelter of the vehicle. Jack turns to his friends in the back, his pale face bares a deep frown. “That was troubling. We have crossed paths with two True Fae in as many weeks. To make matters more concerning they were both Keepers for two of our Motley. This worries me deeply.” After a moment he remembers that Shae had something important to tell him. “I am sorry Shae, what was it you needed to tell me, my friend?”

Shae looks worried and after a brief pause he shifts and reaches into his pocket. He cautiously brings his hand out before Jack and seems to have second thoughts about what he’s doing. Slowly he opens his hand to show the ring he’s been keeping. “I don’t know how I came to have this.”

The ring looks familiar somehow, but Jack can’t immediately place it, although vague memories of a warm summer afternoon in a leafy glade and some sort of celebration begin to stir.

“That seems to be familiar somehow. Something from Arcadia?” Replies Jack with a far away look in his eyes. “Did you have it when you came through the Hedge?”

“Yes… But I didn’t know. Honestly. When that Fae called me a thief, I couldn’t understand why. And when you took me to the Crown and Antlers… then I found it in my pocket.” She looks very concerned. “I don’t know how I got it.”

“Have you noticed anything unusual about it?”

“Yes.” Shae looks scared. “It got hot… The closer she came to me, the hotter it became.”

Jack’s eyes narrow as he regards the ring. “She? You mean the lady in the market just now?”

“Yes. The lady who was interested in you.”

“So you have come out of The Hedge right on top of The May, with what would appear to be DJ’s Keeper hot on your heels, and with a ring in your pocket that is linked to . . . to . . HER?!” Jack growls the last word through clenched teeth, a rare look of anger on his face.

Shae closes his hand and pulls away from Jack. “I didn’t know anything about it. I’m sorry Jack.” He pauses briefly. “There’s something more though.” He looks Jack in the eye. “ As I said, the closer I got to her, the hotter the ring got. I wasn’t too close, but I noticed that she had a burn mark on her finger. She was more interested in you and so I left.”

Jack’s expression softens. “Sorry Shae, I am not angry with you. I am just vexed that after all this time she has caught up with me. Coming face to face with one’s keeper is an unnerving experience. It is a curious set of coincidences that lead me to believe that there is more to this than meets the eye. Not to mention the fact that we have come under attack from parties unknown.” He smiles at Shae after a moments pause, a mischievous look upon his face. “We could always up the stakes. What attachment do you have to the ring?”

Shae relaxes and looks more comfortable. “I don’t even know why I have it or what it’s worth. But I do know that I can’t ever take it back in to the market with me again. She asked what I had in my pocket, but she never saw anything.” He holds the ring out once more, offering it to Jack to have a closer look. “What do you make of it all?”

Jack takes the ring and inspects it closely. He draws on his reserves of Glamour and attempts to rejuvenate himself with a Gift of Warm Breath.

Jack feels a slight tingle in his palm as the glamour flows through him leaving him feeling sharp and refreshed. Looking back down at the ring he notices that the design has changed and the simple geometric pattern offset by a single diamond has been replaced by a more solid golden design bearing his old family crest.

Jack looks more confused by that outcome. “Well that is rather unexpected. Has the ring changed at all while in your possession Shae?”

“No… not that I know. It always had a diamond in it.”

Jack hands the ring back to Shae. “Will you try something for me? Hold the ring and show me the contract you have been practising. Try and look like me.”

Shae takes the ring and closes his hands round it. He looks straight at Jack and instantly, his skin turns emerald and his face alters to that of Jack. Then, slowly, he opens his hand. Although Shae felt the ring tingle in his palm as he changed, upon opening his hand the ring remains the same. “It tingled a bit Jack. It never did that before when I held it. Only got hot near the lady.”

Jack smiles in understanding. “Now try and look like Will.”

With a smile, Shae looks across at Will and the emerald of his skin deepens while his hair turns silver and the goblin is mirrored in his face. Again the ring tingles, but this time appears as a mass-produced, thick band of heavy, brushed steel.

“That is interesting. I will undoubtedly cross paths with the lady again when I return to pick up my suit. If things turn sour I would like to maybe use the ring as a bargaining chip. That is if you do not mind Shae.” Jack pauses and a thought appears to occur to him. “Although there may be a reason why you are in possession of it. What do you think?”

His skin returns to his normal complexion. “Well… I truly don’t know why or how I came to have the ring. So, I’ll leave it to your better judgement.”

“Very good of you. Indeed it is. You hold onto it for now I dare not take it with me later. We are almost back at the Crown and Antlers, I need a drink, and maybe a bite to eat; I skipped breakfast.”

Shae looks at the heavy steel ring in his hand and then tucks it away in his pocket. “I think I could do with one too.” He pauses briefly. “I never did try the ring on… never seemed right.” He looks out the window of the car then turns back to Jack a bit puzzled. “You had quite a hearty breakfast as I remember Jack.”

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Interlude Two - Dinner

Work in progress…Henry calls Jack from the car on his way back from collecting Brigid enabling Jack to meet the car outside as it arrives. In theory. In practice, Jack is left waiting for several minutes before Henry eventually pulls up outside the pub. “I’m sorry for the delay, sir. We had perfect traffic to begin with but the moment we hit the bridge things started to slow down,” Henry apologises quietly as he passes Jack on his way around to open the door for his passenger.

Brigid steps out wearing a trouser suit and a little makeup, her hair pulled loosely back from he face but not otherwise heavily styled., and offers her hand to Jack, “Good evening Mr. Squire. I think that may be the first time I’ve ever been chauffeured!”

Jack takes her hand and helps her out of the car. “Well, it is the first time you have been to dinner with Jack Squire.” He gives her a wink and gestures towards the front door. “I have a table reserved for us in the bay window overlooking the river. It is relatively secluded so our conversation should be private.”

“Excellent, privacy is certainly an aid to an informative conversation.”

* * *

They order drinks and starters in a slightly strained silence before entering into an exchange of small talk until the waitress arrives with their meals. Jack takes the lead by asking the first pertinent question of the evening.

“Now please tell me Brigid, is there anything in particular you would like to know about us?”

“Oh, definitely!” Her face lights up at the prospect and Jack gets a faint tang of desire tinged with a familiar excitement before she makes an effort to continue in a more measured tone. “But perhaps you should tell me a little about yourself to begin with – anything I ask might proceed from faulty assumptions and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent you.”

Jack nods as he finishes chewing then pauses for a moment before he replies. “I was born in the closing decades of the 19th Century to a wealthy family. I was well schooled and well travelled before joining Her Majesty’s Navy as an officer. My career was brief however as I was stolen from this realm and taken to another. My memories of that time are mere snatches of emotion, emotions that I would not share with anyone. I returned,” Jack pauses dramatically, “changed. My body and soul are irrevocably imbued with the raw stuff of our Magic; Glamour. You have seen my true visage, for this face you see now is nought but a mask, and that is the most striking and fundamental transfiguration.” Jack reaches for his wine and takes a sip. “How far was that from your preconceptions Brigid?”

Brigid ignores the question and responds instead with two of her own,”Where were you taken? And how did you get back?”

Jack sits back in this chair and wags a finger at her. “Now, now Brigid, let us play fair. Its my turn to ask a question. Tell me about yourself and I will give you your answers.”

Brigid considers carefully before speaking, “I was born in the mid 70s in Cardiff, but my family emigrated to Australia when I was still young. I came back to the UK for university, studied media and journalism and then went travelling for a while. I intended to write some sort of travel guide, you know, something aimed at people on a budget explaining how to get around cheaply and experience the real culture of the places I visited, but I never really got round to it. I managed to get a job working as a local reporter for a regional newspaper and had been there about a week when it happened. I found myself daydreaming about travelling, about jacking in the job and just taking off again. Then something sort of switched inside me and I started seeing connections everywhere and I just sort of knew things were going to happen before they actually happened, like acute deja-vu. I thought I was having some sort of work induced breakdown but then some guys found me and helped me come to grips with my power. A few of us moved to London to be where the action is a couple of years back and I’ve been here ever since.”

She pauses and takes a sip of wine before continuing, “So, where were you taken?”

Jack plays with the remainder of his meal as he answers. “Arcadia, the Fae Realm. You have heard the old tales from a time when people believed; Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel & Gretel. There are strange beings that inhabit that land; The True Fae, or The Others; they cross the boundary between their world and ours to steal mortals away to be their slaves, servants or even companions.” Jack’s eyes take on an unfocused lost quality. “They are the ones who change us, mold us to their needs and desires. We bring some of their Magic back with us.” He mops up the last morsels on his plate, letting the silence hang for a moment. “Tell me more of these connections you see.”

“All manner of things that are hard to articulate really. Like connections between people and places, things that were and things that might be. Nothing definite, though, just impressions. Sometimes I can see two people and just know that they are going to be friends, or that one of them will probably have an accident. It’s not just people, though. I get all sorts of impressions about places, situations and the like. Casinos and racetracks are a lot more fun for me than they used to be.” She takes a sip from her rapidly emptying wine glass. “So how did you make it back here from Arcadia?”

“I have to admit to being entirely unsure myself.” Stated Jack. “I do remember smelling the sea and I think that clinched it for me. Arcadia is a highly unusual place and the boundary between it and this world; known as The Hedge is extremely difficult to navigate. I would assume that many more do not make it back than those who do. The brambles, barbs and creatures that dwell there tear at your flesh and your mind as you struggle through what appears to be an endless wilderness. I must have found a gate which allowed me to return.” Jack smiles at Brigid and refills her now empty glass before doing the same for his own. “This is fun is it not?”

“Indeed it is,” she smiles and pauses before continuing, “Are there many such gates?”

Jack shakes his head with a playful grin. “it is, I am afraid my question…”

“But you asked if it was fun, and I answered, so the next question is mine,” Brigid interrupts with a broad grin of her own.

Jack laughs and claps his hands together. “Splendid, I like it my dear, I do indeed. There you have me, but I see no cards upon the table on this occasion.”

“We could always set aside this conversation for now and talk of other things instead for this evening. Then perhaps I could entertain you on my side of the river in the near future so that we might continue this conversation.”

“That would be wonderful. But please tell me one thing. When you look at me, what do you see? What connections…?” Jack sits forward in his chair expectantly.

“Sadly I am not permitted to undertake such a task on this side of the river. But I would gladly view you if you visit me to the north.”

“Forgive me, my dear, I assumed it was something that involved no effort to complete.”

“Once that was the case, when I was new to my gifts. But now they come only when I call on them.”

Jack catches the attention of a waitress and orders another bottle of wine. “I would be delighted to come and visit you. Would you like a dessert?”

“Yes please, what would you recommend?”

“My man does a terrific Apple Tart Tatin. Shall I order two?”

“Yes, do. And while we wait for the food to arrive maybe you could explain how a man born more than a century ago comes to own and run a successful pub and restaurant on London’s south bank. I’m assuming it can’t just have been a question of compound interest.”

“That is a sound assumption. It was a mixture of business acumen, enthusiasm and a bit of magic.” Jack replied mysteriously. “And what would be your day job?”

“This and that. I find enough ways to keep money flowing in that I don’t need a regular job any more. Race tracks, scratch cards, bookies – there are plenty ways to turn my talent to making a profit that leave me with more time to pursue other interests than a job ever could.” Brigid takes a forkful of the newly arrived apple tart tatin and makes an appreciative noise as she begins to chew.

“And what would these other interests be then?” Asks Jack as he also digs in to the dessert.

“Research mostly, along with practicing my talents. There’s a lot more in the world than I ever realised before I Awoke, I want to understand it. That’s one of the reasons meeting you is such a treat. I’m sure you owe me two now. What do you do when you’re not running a pub?”

Jack finishes a large mouthful of tart before answering. “I play a bit of squash, well actually I play a lot of squash. I also fence. It is one of the things I have always done, it reminds me of my time at Oxford. I was College champion for three years running and every time I fence it takes my right back there. Therapy I suppose. There is also a lot of social activity in our . . erm . . . community and I like to get involved if you know what I mean. That is why my friends and I were in attendance at the meeting.” Jack Pauses briefly. “So I am research am I Brigid?”

She blushes slightly, “Only in a manner of speaking. It’s not like I want to dissect you or write a dissertation or anything like that. I’m just curious – it’s not every day that a girl gets to have dinner with a 19th century naval officer who spent the 20th century living in Arcadia, after all. Who wouldn’t want to find out more?”

“I see what you mean. The last few years have been hard. There have been a lot of changes to the world I grew up in, an awful lot, but I have found one constant; people. I do enjoy company, to be surrounded by people simply enjoying themselves. I suppose that is why I chose to run a pub. I am never far from people enjoying a drink and some conversation. I think there are other reasons also, but I think I will leave that door closed.” Jack looks out over the darkening skyline of London. “I do love this view. It is marvellous is it not?”

Brigid turns to look at the silhouettes of famous buildings picked out in lights against the sky, “Yes. I rarely get to see the view from this side of the river. It’s strange, don’t you think, that we could freely cross a bridge with no more danger than the countless thousands of Sleepers who do so each day and yet choose to avoid such large swathes of the city we call home?”

“Yes, we are different to them, so very different in many ways. But I think you and I are not so different. Shall we drink to building bridges?” Jack raises his glass with a warm smile.

“To building bridges and crossing them!” Brigid clinks her glass against Jacks and drinks.

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Interlude Two - Questions & Answers

[GM’s note: this was a collaborative effort between me and the two players concerned. They actually started the work themselves as an in character introduction to the setting for Shae’s player, and only called me in when they needed to get some NPCs involved. Sometimes I feel a bit redundant!]

To say that Jack Squire’s private quarters are not spacious is an understatement. They are built into the loft of the Crown & Antlers and as a result the ceilings are low and the eaves make the rooms feel even smaller. Having said this, to a man used to living in a six foot by four foot cabin in a warship, even the small space in the attic is pure luxury. He has all the space he needs with the added bonus that nothing moves about as it would with the pitch and yaw of a ship at sea.

Right across the hall from his walk-in wardrobe is his study that overlooks the river. The room is cluttered with brick-a-brak accumulated shortly after Jack returned from Arcadia. Blanche had suggested that he surround himself with any familiar items that would remind him of his former life; something that proved to be difficult for Mr. Squire because he was taken by his keeper over a century ago. On his desk is an impressive scale model of a frigate, a large brass compass, several bottles of rum on a silver tray, a telescope in a brown leather case and a large amount of other debris. The one thing missing is a computer of any sort.
Several outdated and mismatched chairs stand around the desk, and bookshelves cover the eastern wall, their shelves stocked with books that Jack has never read, nor does he have any intention to. A number of pictures are dotted about the beige walls, all displaying warships of varying sizes and ages.

Jack sits behind the desk and pours two glasses of rum; one for himself and another for Shae who is still showing signs of stress and anxiety. This is unsurprising when you consider the fact that he only escaped Arcadia less than 24 hours ago. Jack has supplied him with a plain tracksuit (something Jack himself has never worn) to replace his tattered clothing. “So Shae, I know you have a lot of questions for me. Just ask away my dear fellow and I shall do my very best to answer them.” Sitting back he takes a sip of rum.

Shae sits for a long moment staring at the glass of rum on the edge of the desk, waiting for him. Slowly, he leans forward and takes up the glass, not once taking his eyes off of it. Slowly he brings it up and sniffs it warily. He looks up to see Jack smile, tip his glass and take a sip.

“I suggest you knock it back in one go. It will do you the world of good.” Jack advises.

Shae looks deep into his glass as he brings it up to his lips. The strong, bittersweet smell of the dark liquid is inviting and he then takes a big mouthful. Almost at once after he swallows, he fights back the choking cough and his eyes water. “Oh… my. Wh… what is that?”

“The Captains finest spiced rum. I first tasted it in the Caribbean. Of course that was the real stuff. None of this watered down rubbish, but it will suffice.” Jack tops himself up. “Now out with it Shae, what do you want to know?”

Still choking, Shae finishes off the remainder of his drink, this time without any further protest. The aroma of the alcohol opens up his air ways and the warmth fills his chest. “It’s good,” he manages with a dry rasp as he put his glass back on the desk. No sooner has he put the tumbler down, Jack refills it for him. Without protest, he sits back with the drink, and once again sits silently staring into his glass as he slowly swirls it round.

“Wh… where am I?” He asks cautiously. It is the first thing he needs to know and as soon the question is asked, his head fills with more as if a barrier has been broken. He doesn’t even wait for a reply. Without looking up he begins. “Where am I? What is this place? Who are you all? Who was that? And what did he mean? I’m no thief! Why would he call me a thief? What have I done to him?” And then he gives a long pause, slowly looking up to see Jack staring at him, waiting quietly. Then he asks the question Jack knew would come and was waiting for… “Who am I?”

Jack lets the silence hang for a moment before slowly placing his glass on the desk and sitting forward with a sympathetic look on his face. “That, old boy, is the one question I cannot answer. I can, however, help with some of the others. This is London. I am sure you will know of it as we often come back to familiar places. This place is my pub; the Crown and Antlers. You are welcome to stay here for as long as you like. The spare room is not very spacious, I know, but it is your own for now. That being was one of The Gentry, a True Fae.”

Jack sits back again and raises his eyebrows before continuing, “He was the one that took you in the first place. He carried you off when you were younger to be his servant, or slave if you will. I have no idea why he would call you a thief, or for that matter what you may have done, but I can explain why you do not know your self.” Jack stands and walks to the window, adjusting his crimson cravat.

“We are changelings. We were once human, but after spending our Durance in Arcadia the Fae magic changed us into . . something else. Your form and mine are different because our keepers had different duties for us to perform, different . . . needs.”

Jack drifts momentarily in his own thoughts, his golden irises twinkling at some half forgotten memory, before snapping back to the present. “We are the lucky ones. We have found a way home through the boundary that separates our worlds; the Hedge. As you escaped, the thorns ripped not only your clothes and skin but also your memory. You may never remember it all, many of us do not but snatches will come back to you in those moments between waking and sleeping. As for your own memories of your life before you were taken, they will return slowly but surely.”

“Taken?” Completely confused, Shae can’t take his eyes from Jack as he waits for an answer. “What do you mean by taken? And we’re..? What are we?”

“We are altered by a substance called Glamour, the stuff of magic. The True Fae use and manipulate it to create their realm, and they imbue us with a portion of it, changing us to please their whims. That is why we call ourselves Changelings, or fae. We are creatures of magic now and soon you will learn to shape Glamour in your own way.”

Jack sees Shae’s confusion and seems to make up his mind. He rolls his sleeves up, closes his eyes and vivid emerald flames erupt across his skin deepening it to a rich jade colour. They don’t burn him or his clothes, they flow slowly and hypnotically across his skin. Shae feels transfixed by the sight almost unable to take his eyes off the tall and imposing figure before him.

Jack smiles. “This is what we can do with Glamour, well not exactly the same effect, but it allows us to do things that no human could. We are supernatural beings now, more than human! Enjoy it while you can young Shae.” He shakes his arms and the flames die down.

“So what can I do? Or… how will I know what I can do?” Shae holds his hands out before him and stares at them as he slowly turns them over, expecting something, but not sure what to expect. “Will I make flames like you did?”

Jack shakes his head slowly. “I would be very surprised if you did. As I said, the effects will be different. It will be related in some way to your role in Arcadia and to your Seeming.” Jack takes a sip of rum before continuing. “We all manifest changes in very different ways but there do seem to be some similarities between some of us. Think of it as a type of species or race if you will. You look like a Darkling to me. Which suggests that your durance was spent in the shadows. I am a Fairest, Will; a wizened and DJ is clearly a Beast. Which brings me onto an interesting point. It would appear that you and Desmond shared the same Keeper. You might be able to get some information out of him, something that might jog your memory. He might seem intimidating at first, but he is a faithful friend.”

[The term “faithful friend” makes DJ sound like a dog, which is, of course, appropriate. I wonder whether it was deliberate on the part of Jack’s player?]

Jack stares into Shae’s glazed and confused face. “I fear I am going too fast. Please take a moment.”

“So how will I come to realise my abilities? Will someone like you see them in me?” Shea finishes off his drink and leans forward to place his glass on the desk. Still looking up at Jack he doesn’t notice that the sleeve of the unusual clothing drags the glass off the edge of the desk. With blinding speed, Shae catches the glass before it has completely tipped over the edge of the desk. Thinking nothing of this and hoping Jack didn’t notice the incident, he returns the tumbler to the desk with a little more attention this time. “So you say I’m a Darkling. Is that a good thing?”

“It is what you are, whether good or bad there is little you can do about it.” Jack points at the glass. “One thing I can tell you is this; not many people are that fast.” Jack sits down again. “I think I might be being to specific. Lets look at the bigger picture for a moment. There are about one hundred and fifty of us in the Freehold, that is what we call our community. The Freehold of the Southern Fields encompasses South London. There are four courts, named after the seasons. Think of them as formal social clubs, and each court is ruled by a Monarch. I am a member of the Spring court. You have met the Monarch of Spring; Lord Greene. He was the fellow in the suit.”

“I remember him. I didn’t realise his importance though.” Thinking about what Jack said, Shae looks at his hands and flexes his fingers, whispering a repeat to himself. “Fast, eh?” He looks back up at Jack. “Will I see much more of Lord Greene?” As he asks the question, a quick change comes about his appearance. Only briefly, the colour and shape of Shea’s face alter; his hair becomes greyer and his face resembles the Monarch of Spring, then returns to normal.

Jack frowns at the change. “It would appear that you have the ability to emulate the appearance of others. There we go, you are a natural. It is something we can work on.”

Shae looks on slightly confused. “I can? I am?” He feels quite relaxed in Jack’s company and conversation is becoming more easy with him. “What can you do to help me realise this then please?” As he speaks, his features change further. His skin turns emerald and his features mirror Jack as he sits before him. “Is it something I’ll be able to control?”

“Yes Shae, you will master it eventually. Now, where were we? Ah yes, the courts. Summer is ruled by Strongarm Sally. She is a woman you do not want to cross. Summer guard the bridges across the Thames. I will come back to that. Then there is Autumn which is ruled by Briarpatch. You will rarely see the King of Autumn, unless you join them. Winter is slightly different, only those in the court know the identity of its monarch. They are a secretive bunch who keep to themselves.” Jack takes another sip before continuing.

“The courts take it in turn to rule the freehold each season, ensuring that no-one can rule for too long at any one time. Now the key difference between the courts is the way they view our condition. Us Spring types embrace the fact that we have returned to the mortal world and take pleasure in enjoying all that our freedom has to offer. We will never forget our Durance, it is after all what shapes us, but we strive to make the most of life; joie de vive!” Jack raises his glass in a toast.

Shae flashes a quick glance back at his glass then simply smiles in reply as he continues to listen.

“Summer are continually angry about the fact they were taken and have a strong hatred of the True Fae. They love rage, fury and anger in all its forms. I personally do not think this is healthy. Winter are an unhappy lot. All they do is whine about The Gentry, keep their heads down and hide from them and the rest of the world. They are a sorrowful lot. Finally you have Autumn. Now I get on board with what they do I just cannot be bothered to spend my whole life looking behind me. They focus on the fear of their time in captivity, but they are the best at channelling Glamour and remembering the power they had at their fingertips. Any questions or shall I press on?”

“So you’re saying that Autumn is pretty much how I feel right now? Though I’m not sure really of what exactly is at my fingertips… for now.” He smiles warmly. “Do I have to pick or will I just fit in?”

Jack laughs. “They will have their recruiters out who will try and temp you to join. You can consider me the Spring recruiter in this case, although I will not push you into a decision. I have a good feeling about you Shae and I hope we will be firm friends. You do not have to rush into anything either. That brings us to Motleys. We Changelings form smaller groups of individuals who watch each others backs and act as the closest thing to family we have. My motley includes DJ and Will, and we are collectively known as “The Gentlemen of Bankside.”

Shae smiles at the thought of family. The mention of it makes him feel that there is something that he has been missing and in need of feeling. “The Gentlemen of Bankside.” He pauses briefly and the smile leaves his face. “You said that DJ and I… we were both involved with the Keeper? When can I meet up with DJ then?”

“As soon as you like. He is usually hanging around the pub. You are welcome with us in the Spring court, but take a look at the others and see what you think.” Jack looks around the office looking for inspiration. “I think that covers the basics to be honest. I will introduce you to as many of the Freehold as I can, but for now I think it is about dinner time.”

The two men get up and Jack opens the door gesturing Shae out of the room and down to the main bar of the Crown and Antlers.

  • * *

Henry pulls up outside LJP Solicitors in Old Kent Road to let Jack and Shae alight before finding a parking space somewhere nearby. The pair approach the glass fronted building and although it is almost seven o’clock the lights are still on inside. Jack steps up and raps his knuckles on the door, the interior blocked by sun bleached vertical blinds.

Shae shuffles about uncomfortably. His first day out in the fresh air leaves him feeling slightly self conscious, especially with the few people passing by staring at him.

“Do not worry Shae, they cannot see your real appearance, the mask will cover you.” Jack reassures him. “All they will see is the way you looked before.”

Shae relaxes fractionally and peers through the window in an attempt to see through the blinds, but gives up when he realise it’s feeble. “So who are we seeing again?”

Before Jack has a chance to answer, the blind covering the door twitches as a hand moves to open the lock, open the door and let the pair in. The man standing in the doorway is slightly shorter than average and painfully thin with a sharp face. His thinning dark hair is immaculately combed and his suit, expensive without being ostentatious, is clean and pressed giving him an overriding air of quiet formality.

“Good evening, Jack, Blanche said that you might be popping over with the new boy. Do come in. She’s on a call at the moment but shouldn’t be long. Can I get you a tea or a coffee while you wait? I’m afraid the secretaries have left for the night, but I’m sure I can still find my way around the kitchen.”

Jack gestures for Shae to enter, then follows, closing the door behind him. “Thank you Thomas, I would like a coffee please, milk and two sugars.”

“We only have that instant stuff, I’m afraid. Blanche has had Archie going over the finances and he’s a tyrant when it comes to the niceties. And for your friend?”

“Shae, this is Thomas. Thomas, this is our new boy; Shae. I would imagine tea with two?”

Unsure of the drink being offered but feeling need to quench his dry throat, Shae nods his approval to Jack before returning Thomas’ greeting. He looks about the room, feeling slightly uncomfortable with the overall silence of the office.

Thomas bustles off to prepare the drinks leaving Jack and Shae standing in a modest but comfortable reception area comprising a few low chairs and a coffee table littered with a selection of the day’s papers. Within a few minutes Thomas reappears with a tray holding four mugs and accompanied by Blanche.

“Jack, Shae, good to see you both. I thought we might as well chat out here, it’s more comfortable than my office.” She sits while Thomas distributes the tea before continuing, “Shae, I gather Jack is showing you around the freehold. You must have plenty of questions, is there anything I can help you with?”

Shae stops watching Thomas serving the drinks and looks up at Blanche. He pauses briefly. “Jack has been helping me a lot. I… I don’t know what to ask right now.” He feels embarrassed for feeling confused and unsure and briefly looks at Jack before turning back to Blanche. “Unless… Can you help me learn of my past?”

Jack smiles to himself as he recalls having the same conversation with Blanche almost four years ago. He sits back and lounges on the chair, gently tapping the head of his cane with his right hand.

“As I’m sure Jack has told you, many of your memories will return in time. perhaps even more than you might wish to recall. But there are ways to help the process, certainly. Many of our kind find that their memories return once they start to develop a routine, to immerse themselves in the very act of living a normal life once again. Have you given any thought to what you might like to do with your freedom?”

Shae shrugs his shoulders and thinks for a brief moment. “I don’t know yet really.” He sits on the edge of his seat and adds. “I’d like to be able to look around. To see the area, if I may. To just be able to walk around.”

“That much we can certainly manage,” Blanche reassures Shae. “It may be best for you to find someone familiar with the modern world to help you at first. I’m sure Jack would be only too willing to volunteer, but even he would have to admit that the finer nuances of twenty first century life sometimes escape him.”

Jack inclines his head with a smile and raised his hands in acceptance of the fact that he is indeed out of touch with the modern world.

Blanche continues. “Perhaps Will or DJ? You should also ensure that you know the rules of the Freehold before travelling. Most important, we are the Freehold of the Southern Fields and while we may travel north of the river we are not permitted to use contracts while there.”

Blanche pauses to let that sink in before continuing, “As for the other laws and customs of our people, Jack is well enough versed in those to keep you on the right track. Don’t create new gates into the Hedge within the boundaries of the Freehold, don’t reveal the existence of our people to others, use common sense in all else and you shouldn’t go far wrong.”

“We have all been in the same situation Shae, and have received help from our friends in the freehold so never be afraid to ask questions. We understand exactly what you are going through.” Jack reassuringly. “There is also the delicate matter of your Fetch. Once you start to remember your old life.”

“Ah, yes,” Thomas speaks for the first time. “It would be well to see what your fetch is up to sooner rather than later. I’ve known many of the Lost who left that too late.”

“But of course that depends on where it is and what you intend to do. You might want to leave it where it is and start a fresh life. There is a lot to consider Shae,” adds Jack.

Shae looks confused. “Fetch?” He looks round at the other three in the room hoping for one to expand on the meaning.

“When you were taken your keeper would have left behind a replacement, a simulacrum, that will be continuing your mortal life for you in a reduced capacity. It is a thing of magic. A creation that will resemble you and behave like you did, but in a hollow, almost lifeless way. If you want to return to your own life, something that I would only recommend if you were able to fully regain your memories and not too much time has passed since your abduction, you would need to destroy it,” Jack explains sympathetically.

Shae looks optimistic. “You mean that there is someone… something out there which I could learn about myself?” His renewed enthusiasm makes him sit up right and to hang on to Jack’s every word. “Is it possible to talk with this fetch and discover anything… if I was to find him of course?”

Jack looks thoughtful as he replies. “Well these creatures are not human you understand. They exist as a shadow of your former self and their minds are fragile. It thinks it is you. If you were to turn up asking questions about your own life it is likely to have a total mental breakdown. Or worse…”

Shae sits back and looks slightly deflated. Jack’s last comment sits heavy on his mind. “Worse. I suppose that it would be a shock to suddenly find me in my own face.” He thinks for a few moments. “Would someone else maybe try and learn from him for me?”

“I’m sure someone would be able to help out. We would need a name, of course, and any other details you might have. And there is no guarantee that your fetch is still out there. Many fetches die or find themselves in prison long before we return,” Thomas explains.

Jack changes the subject seeing that bringing up fetches may have been a step too far at this stage. Realising that a magical automaton has taken over your life is a hard fact to come to terms with. “Blanche is right Shae, you need to find something you enjoy doing. A job, hobby or vocation anything that gets you back into some kind of routine. Until then there is always a bit of bar work at the pub for you and it is a great place to meet some of the freehold that frequent it.” Jack pauses to take a sip of coffee. “Has London brought back any memories for you Shae? We tend to exit the hedge at a familiar place, subconsciously of course, like the proverbial moth to the flame.”

“I can’t say that I recognise anything. I haven’t seen anything that’s familiar or made me think. Sorry.” He pauses for a few moment. “I don’t have anything to do. Some bar work would be good. At least I’ll be able to do something then.” He smiles broadly. “Thank you, Jack.”

“Excellent!” beams Jack. “‘Tis a pleasure to have you aboard, a real pleasure.”

“Yes, Jack seems to be developing a talent for helping out new arrivals.” – Blanche gives Jack a knowing look – “so I’m sure you’ll be in good hands, Shae. But don’t hesitate to let me know if there is anything that I, or the court, can do for you.”

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The May - Part Four

In the days following the May, rumour runs rife in the Freehold and exchanges like this become common:

“Have you seen the new Darkling at the Crown & Antlers? I hear the Gentlemen rescued him from a bunch of loyalists.”

“I heard it was Hobs, a whole pack of briarwolves.”

“No, no, it was one of Them – you know that sword young Will always carries, he fought it off with that.”

“It was never one of them, just some loyalists or something using a contract. I’ve seen some of the fairest use contracts that would make you swear they were Keepers.”

“Half the fairest probably are keepers, in disguise like, or else working for ’em.”

“Oi! You take that back!”

- fight breaks out -

The only thing that anyone knows for certain is that they don’t have the full story, but that answers, in the form of Shae, can be found in the Crown & Antlers. While some of the darker rumours suggest that the Gentlemen of Bankside might not be the safest motley to have as friends right now, for many of the Freehold curiosity outweighs concern and a host of new changeling faces can be found in the pub on most evenings, hoping to pick up some news and perhaps get a glimpse of the newcomer himself.

The customary band of recruiters for the courts are also in evidence. While Freehold tradition grants Shae some time to learn about his new life free from the advances of the recruiters, practice dictates that he not be left entirely in the hands of Spring for that period. The bulk that is Wallace from the Summer court, the less intrusive Artemis Bligh and his apprentice Chloe from Autumn, and Simon Sleet of Winter are among the new batch of regulars and all make a point of trying to talk to Shae whenever he is left alone.

Thursday evenings are often quiet in the Crown and Antlers. The calm before the storm of the weekend. This Thursday is very different. Most of the mortals have left for the evening but the main bar is still crowded with Changelings. The locals are all there plus a score of other freeholders drawn by the reputation of the Gentlemen of Bankside. Jack Squire is in his element. The pub is making money hand over fist and more importantly he, Will, DJ and their new companion Shae were now celebrities of the moment, and Jack for one is basking in his fifteen minutes of fame.

Matty groves has not been seen since The May, something that is not entirely inexplicable. The reclusive Satyr is prone to long periods of absence from the social scene and much as he craves the spotlight, he is often loath to share it. The pub’s jukebox is providing the musical entertainment currently but Sad Samuel is in attendance and as soon as the mood changes he will no doubt begin to play his enchanting melodies. The only noticeable absences are the Pittman twins – it is their turn on bridge duty tonight.

Jack enters the pub with an empty tray in his hands after delivering Bill Huggins’ evening meal. He nods to those who look his way as he enters and walks behind the bar to help Brandon, the barman, on the pumps.

Relaxing in one of the booths, DJ is animatedly discussing the events of the May with a pair of young female changelings who appear to be hanging on his every word. “So this bloke was all like ‘Give him to me’ and Jack was like ‘Never!’ but y’know Jacks got the mouth but he ain’t got the presence to back it up, nowotimean? So like I is standing there givin’ this bloke evils which meant he was dead scared of us, well, mostly me and then this geezer was all like ‘okay, give me that sword’ and we were like ‘uhuh pretty boy, that’s Wills blade’ so then he was all like ‘then I shall take you’ and points a finger at me of all people! The cheek of it! I was all like ‘bovvered mate’ and he clearly saw I had the skills to back it up so he turned around and fucked off out of there sharpish. Pussy.”

DJ pauses for a brief drink but notices his pint glass is empty, he cranes his head in the direction of the bar, looking for someone likely to hand him another.

Jack refreshes DJ’s glass with a wry smile before any of DJ’s eager audience are able to do so.

“So what happened then, DJ?” asks one of the pair, a young Summer court changeling by the name of Belleflower.

DJ Shrugs. “I reckon he musta shit himself, he was proper kickin up!”

* * *

A woman steps into the bar with an air of mild trepidation and a tang of something exotically familiar that the assembled changelings can almost taste. Her hair is a dark blonde tied back in a loose pony tail but with the appearance of being slightly windswept in spite of it. Wearing jeans and a raincoat against the inclement weather outside she could easily be mistaken for someone seeking a moment’s shelter from the rain, but she is clutching a small card in her hand, a card that Jack, standing at the bar, recognises as the one he gave her after an unsuccessful game of cards. Looking around to get her bearings, she wanders over to the end of the long bar and asks for the proprietor.

Jack takes a quick double take before giving Brigid one of his winning smiles. “Brigid, it’s a pleasure to see you again. What can I get you?”

“Jack? I almost didn’t recognise you!” She seems to relax a little but not completely. “I’ll have a bottle of Corona if you have it, but don’t bother with the lime.”

Jack looks taken aback, then realises that most of their last meeting was spent with the mask down. He opens one of the fridges behind the bar and hands her an opened bottle. “That one is on me.” Jack can feel Jenni’s eyes burning into the back of his head – he gives away far too many drinks. “So what brings you over the water on this miserable evening?”

“Cheers!” Brigid takes a swig of beer before continuing. “I’ve been meaning to come and visit for a while. I kinda hoped you’d come and see me first to be honest, but this evening I was considering options and got the feeling that now might be a good time to say ‘hi’. Is it?”

“Always! If I am being honest I got the impression that you would not be too keen on a visit. Plus we have been a tad . . . busy here.” Jack gives her a grin. “So what options were you considering exactly?”

“Oh, this and that. Trying to decide what to do with the evening.” She pauses for a moment before continuing, “I suppose I was, and still am, a little reluctant to head over to this side of the river. You know the arrangement, I dare say that you’re not particularly keen to be on my side either?”

“Yes, it does leave one feeling a little exposed. But fear not Brigid, you are amongst friends here.” Jack gives a small frown before continuing. “In fact we might be able to do something about that; if you ever find your self in trouble south of the river you can always ask me for help, as long as the arrangement would work both ways?”

She smiles, “Yes, I think that would be a remarkably civilised and sensible approach to our little problem. With the caveat that, while you are welcome to ask for my assistance, circumstances may dictate the degree to which I am able to provide it. I assume the same would be true for you?”

“Naturally my dear.” Jack feels the initial tinglings of glamour pervading the room. “Should we need find each other may our noses guide us and our feet carry us all the better.” Jack holds out his hand. “let us confirm it with a handshake Brigid. And maybe another drink?”

[Jack does love his pledges. And why not?]

“‘My mother said I never should…’” She looks at your hand for a few moments before deciding, “Ah, what the hell. I’m not the kind of girl to say no to another drink!”

Jack shakes her hand, the ambient background noise in the bar momentarily drowned out by the pressure of glamour forming around the pair as the pledge resolves. “Splendid! Now that we have settled that particular issue let us get better acquainted.” Jack takes another bottle of beer from the fridge and pours himself a generous measure from a bottle of Captain Morgan’s before leading Brigid to a table. He holds a chair out for her before seating himself. “I think we could learn a lot from each other. I know talent and power when I see it, and I see it in you. We have exchanged some information so far but I think that we should maybe share a little more.” He leans forward at this point and lowers his voice further. “For purely personal reasons you understand.”

Brigid’s eyes light up as she smiles, “I think that would be a fantastic idea, but I’m reluctant to talk too openly here and now.” She looks around at the rowdy group of pub goers. “Maybe we could arrange a more private conversation over dinner sometime soon? I hear wonderful things about the food here.”

“Thank you for saying so. My chef is a bit of a wizard in the kitchen. How about tomorrow night? I’ll make sure we have a table free.”

[‘Wizard in the kitchen’ when arranging dinner with a mage. Jack’s player was very proud of that one – he thinks he is very funny. He is not :~p]

“Tomorrow’s not good. Monday?”

“Monday will be perfect. Shall we say 7:30? I will have a car pick you up.”

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