Afternoon Tea

The beginning of an adventure for Lavender Rose and her raucous companions

Chapter 1

With a smile flittering around my lips, I step back from the table as my gaze wanders over the offering. There is everything you or I can dream of. Cakes of all shapes and sizes. One is three tiers tall. A wedding cake without royal icing or marzipan that tastes of roasted almonds. The sponge without fruit or brandy. A cake laden with strawberries picked fresh from the garden and whipped double cream. Over the top lies a layer of freshly sprinkled sugar icings as shallow as new laden snow. Small purple and red flowers with fine leaves of green made from flimsy rolled icing scattered over the top and down the sides of the three-tiered cake, balances precariously on tiny Greek pillars no bigger than my thumb. Beside the cake is a bowl of berries, blue, red, and black, floating in a golden liquid popping and bursting with tiny bubbles. If you sniff it, your nose will tingle from the hint of champers made from the finest grapes Mrs Gates has to offer. The sun is bright. The cast of shadows falling on the grass a tell the afternoon is passing by. The aroma of clematis, passion flower and mint, tantalise the air. Ice tinkles as fruity wines and freshly squeezed lemonade mix in a jug.

‘Come along, Aurora. If we don’t eat soon, the fish will curdle.’

‘Don’t be daft, Lavender. Fish doesn’t curdle.’

‘In this heat. Who knows what it’ll do?’

Aurora places the rainbow trout caught fresh this morning by Ruby Lake on to the table and with a flounce she sprinkles fairy dust over the beige bamboo chair turning it a shimmering white. Then plonks her derrière on the floral seat. Her blue gaze intent on Ruby as she juggles a bowl of freshly collected rocket and baby beetroot leaves, a plate of the finest cranberry cheese, and a bowl of red ripe tomatoes, plucked less than an hour before.

‘Did you empty your larder, Lavender dear?’

The heat from the sun may not curdle the fish, but the withering look I bestow on the blue fae just might make her toes curl. She flashes me a toothy smile to take the sting out of her words and from where I sit at the head of the table I pluck a gooseberry from the sea-green jelly.

‘You never know who’ll pop by.’

‘After yesterday’s escapade. I don’t see anyone returning soon.’

‘Don’t be such a bore, Ruby. Everyone loves my teas.’

‘That might be true. But Earl’s not forgiven you for pouring mead over his head.’

‘He’s ghastly, Aurora. Just ghastly. He insulted my stew. Said he wouldn’t feed it to the beetles.’

‘It did have a funny taste to it, Dear’

‘Hush, Ruby. That was the sun. He should have eaten it quicker. Instead of small spoonful’s and slurping at it ever so slow.’

Ruby glares at me, her bottom lip wobbles but before she says a word, the creak of the gate interrupts and we turn to see who the visitor can be. My smile widens as I watch the fairy in green hobble our way. His stick tap tap tap, on the pebble dashed path.

‘See. I told you. There’s Earl. He’s come for the fish. Maybe I’ll not let him have any.’

‘Don’t be mean, Lavender.’ Ruby’s lips purse as she scowls at me.

‘Afternoon, Ladies. And what a beautiful one it is.’

‘You best behave yourself today, Earl. We don’t want a repeat of yesterday.’

‘Mrs Earl has already warned me away from that fancy grape juice you insist on serving.’

With a flourish and a bow the leprechaun removes his top hat and perches it on the chair two seats down from Ruby, who sits on my right. Aurora is to my left. She’s drinking chamomile tea made with freshly picked leaves gathered this morning.

‘Is she not joining us this afternoon?’ I smile as I reach for a glass of the fruity lemonade.

‘No – Has a headache. A little too much of your fancy juice.’

Earl ignores the lemonade as he reaches for the plate piled high with fresh trout.

‘No mead, Lavender. How remiss.’

‘Aurora’s idea.’ I smile sweetly as I bite into a broken piece of buttery shortbread.

‘Can’t have tea without mead.’ Then he’s gone pushing the door open to my small home in the Weeping Yoshino Cherry tree.

‘He’s a dreadful man, Lavender. Why you entertain him, I’ll never understand.’ Aurora’s blue eyes never leave the door.

‘Because he’ll be worse if we don’t.’

‘It’s Mrs Earl, I feel for. Poor soul. What she must go through.’ Ruby shakes her head as she wipes her mouth with her pristine white lace handkerchief.

‘Found it.’

Earl uses his foot to shut the door which gives a slight quiver and I shudder expecting the door to fall from its hinges.

‘Good. Now hurry before the fish curls.’

‘Stop fretting, Lass. The fish is fine.’

‘That’s not what you said about the stew.’

‘Old news, Old Girl.’ Earl glances up to the sky, then he looks at me. The twinkle in his eye an omen of what’s to pop out of his mouth. ‘It’s a new day with a new sun. No grudges to hold us back.’

 ‘Have some tea. It’s quite delicious.’

Earl masks the sudden scowl that mars his forehead as he turns to Aurora. His black eyes sparkle again, and I frown as I wish we’d never made the blasted rule not to use magic on our guests as they eat.

‘I’ve my mead, Aurora Lass. It’ll wet this parched throat of mine.’

‘How about some more trout?’ Ruby pushes the plate across the table. Her orange eyes glitter and Earl’s fork hovers over his full plate. About to refuse he reaches over and takes another. Ruby smirks as she settles back in her seat.

‘Have you heard from Pricilla?’

‘No. Has a lot on her plate since Drucilla found that dreadful changeling under the gooseberry bush.’

‘Gooseberry bush. Don’t tell me you still believe in that nonsense. The girl’s been up to no good.’

‘Aurora. There was a time when you got up to no good - Do you forget.’ Ruby’s snigger draws my attention and I glare at her. ‘And what time did you get home, yesterday?’

‘Got yourself a young man have you?’

Earl leers and Ruby sticks her tongue out at him.

‘I might.’

Now young Sid is all grown up. She’s her eye on him. No good of it will come. Just you wait and see.

‘Hush, Lavender. There’s no harm in having some fun.’

I reach over and take a trout. The underside charcoal black and crispy and I lick my lips. With a smile I arch my neck back and swallow it whole. As it slithers into my stomach, I take a swig of lemonade. When both settle in my belly a resounding burp echoes and I watch as a bubble or two floats in the air.

‘Music. Let’s have some music.’ Aurora claps her hands. Her head turns to the Goat Willow. Wilma, the silver nightingale, has her head tucked under one of her wings. It twitches as she preens the grey feathers.

‘Wilma. Wilma – Do sing us a song.’

Wilma’s piercing brown gaze rests on the Fae, then it shifts to Earl, who raises his glass of mead at the Nightingale.

‘Yes, Wilma -Sing us a pretty song.’

He clambers off his seat. His hobble of earlier forgotten as he takes Aurora’s hand. Wilma gives a cough. Her beak high in the air. A sweet melody soon parts from her fragile throat. Ruby joins them, and I have another trout. The air vibrates with their laughter and I look around. The lake has been our home for a long time and we have enjoyed our peace for nearly a millennium. Yet, as I listen to Wilma, I do not hear her. As blue and tranquil as the sky appears to be a rumble vibrates in the air. The lake is unruffled. The only ripples created by swans as they glide through the clear water. I shudder as I take another sip of the warming lemonade. The niggle is growing. It has for some time. Aurora and Ruby both agree it’s time to call the council.

As I pat the letters in my pockets. The ones I’d diligently written the night before, another rumble ricochets in my ear. This one is different, and the three dancers stop as the Nightingale’s song fades and we all turn towards the veil. Earl’s hobble is back as he makes his way to his seat and picks up his staff. Aurora and Ruby flank me and we watch the lilac van come to a stop at the deserted cottage. A cottage that hasn’t seen human life for a year or two. Not since Daffy Boraginaceae went away. Now that I come to think about it that’s when the disquiet slowly began to make itself known.

‘Who do you think it is?’ Ruby’s voice tickles my ear.

‘Never seen them before.’

‘Come on, let’s take a closer look.’ Earl’s already making his way to the shimmering veil.

‘Wait.’ Aurora’s voice is shrill as she runs over to Earl and grabs his hand. ‘We do this together.’ She turns to Ruby and me as we move closer. ‘They’re not Daffy.’

I shake my head as we watch the two young women push the gate open and stroll down the path. We remain by the veil. Unseen, yet watching the cottage waiting.

‘Do you think something’s happened to Daffy?’

I turn to Ruby. Since Daffy’s disappearance, she has missed the old woman. Again, I’m reminded of the rumbles that grow stronger each day. The bitter winter we just left behind one of the worst we’ve experienced in a long time.

‘They might just be looking at the place.’

‘I don’t think so.’

I turn to Aurora who is pointing towards the women. One carries a suitcase. The other has what looks like a bag of shop bought vegetables. A shudder rocks my body.

‘We have to be quiet.’

Earl has stepped through the veil and Ruby’s not far behind him.

 

The cottage is cold and, in the air, lingers the smell of dust and damp. As we wait in the hallway, we hear the voices of the young women coming from the kitchen. I turn to my companions.

‘We don’t want to scare them off just yet. I suggest we go into stealth mode - Earl.’ The leprechaun turns to me. The flesh on his forehead creases and his eyes squint. ‘No trouble.’

‘You always were a spoilsport, Lavender.’

‘Until we know why they are here. We just observe.’

‘Yes- but…’

‘No buts, Aurora.’ I tilt my head to the side as I listen. ‘The cottage will tell us if it wants rid of them.’

‘But they’ve interrupted tea.’

‘Now is not the time to be thinking of your stomach, Earl.’

As I scowl at Earl, his body begins to shimmer, then he’s no longer in front of me. Ruby and Aurora have also disappeared, and I follow through to the kitchen. One of the women is by the window. Her body stretched over the old porcelain sink as she fights with the long catch on the window. With one hand she bangs the window frame which shudders with life as the small window springs open.

‘There. This place needs fresh air. Open the backdoor Tilly.’

Tilly, the other woman is pouring hot water into two cups from a sliver metal bottle. Her gaze lifts as she watches the other woman lower herself back onto the heels of her feet.

‘I’m making tea, Trinity – You’ll have to get the door.’

The one called Trinity scowls at the one called Tilly. After a slight hesitation, she opens the door.

‘We should have gas tomorrow.’

‘I hope so. Did you see the pub as we drove into the village? We can eat there tonight.’

As the women plan their evening, my gaze skims around the kitchen and I spot Aurora sifting through a handbag. Who ignores my warning scowl. As I continue with my inspection of the room, I discover Earl and Ruby missing.

‘Where are the other two?’

Aurora rolls her shoulder and I release a breath of air as I turn to the door.

‘Try not to get caught. – Oh, and Aurora.’

‘Yes.’

‘Leave everything where you find it.’

‘Spoilsport.’

I smile as I blink. When I open my eyes, I find I’ve joined Earl and Ruby in one of the bedrooms. On the bed is a green suitcase with the lid open. Earl sits on the bed, his own clothes hidden behind a large tee-shirt with a Unicorn plastered across his chest. Ruby sits in the lid of the suitcase. Her fingers swift as she pulls at the clothing, the pile beside her growing while the one in the suitcase diminishes.

‘What are you doing?’

The fairy glances at me. Her amber eyes blaze as her cheeks flush pink.

‘We’re just checking them out, Lavender.’

‘The other one has the room next door.’ Earl injects.

‘Is that where you got that frightful top from Earl?’ I stare at the shiny tee-shirt.

Earl looks down at the unicorn. His fingers stroke the ears and before I blink there’s a thud. The unicorn flies from his chest to land in the middle of the room.

‘Earl.’ My voice echoes in the room.

Feet scampering on the stairs, are heard and I glare at the menace, who with a click of his fingers has the unicorn gone. The door to the bedroom is flung open, Tilly and Trinity are standing in the archway. Their green gaze goes to the bed and then they glare at each other.

‘Tilly – Have you been in here.’

Tilly follows Trinity into the bedroom her gaze scans the room as she shakes her head.

‘You know I haven’t. I’ve been with you.’

Trinity gathers the spilled clothes from the bed and pushes the lid of the suitcase down. As it locks, I hear the muffled knock against the hardboard lid. Earl looks at me and I shake my head. Ruby will have to stay where she is until the women leave the room.

‘Mice.’

‘What.’

‘Or rats.’ The one called Trinity walks around the room. She peeks behind the wardrobe, then the dresser. ‘Rats. That’s what we heard.’

‘The bang was pretty loud for rats.’

‘They must have been big ones.’

Tilly looks around the room once more. Her shoulders roll as she reaches for the handle of the door and waits for Trinity.

‘I’ll get some traps tomorrow.’

Aurora who has followed the women, stands beside Tilly and tugs on the brown ponytail and I bite my lip to stop my giggle from escaping. Tilly’s hand goes to her hair as she yelps.

‘What’s got into you now.’ Trinity scowls as she watches the other woman.

‘Nothing.’

After one last look at the room, Tilly’s voice fades as she closes the door. I turn to Aurora, Earl and Ruby, who has wangled herself free of the locked suitcase.

‘What happened to stealth?’

Earl with his unicorn back in place, smiles as Ruby and Aurora giggle.

‘I didn’t think he’d land with such a thud.’

‘He shook the floor.’ I give a shake of my head as I run my fingers over the catches on the suitcase. ‘Did you find anything useful?’

Aurora looks at me from lowered lashes and I bite my bottom lip hard to stop my groan escaping as she drops a purse onto the bed. Ruby scrambles for it. Before I have time to open my mouth, she pours the contents of the purse onto the bed. There’s not much to see. A few coins of various denominations and several cards. Earl reaches over and picks up the pink one with a woman’s face on it.

‘Trinity Bell. She’s from the city.’

‘From the city.’ I muse as I take the plastic card from him. Trinity Bell is twenty-six has green eyes and short brown hair, she wears spiky. A squeal and the loud clatter of what must be a pan lid spinning on the floor has the four of us returning to the kitchen.

The one called Tilly is on her knees as she peers behind the old fridge.

‘I can’t see anything.’

‘It’s humongous, Till. How can you not see it?’

Tilly pulls herself up and pulls the fridge out. I go to stand beside her and peek over her shoulder. I’m not sure what we’re looking for. But apart from a pile of dust some tangled hair, an old pencil and some old dried up cat food there is nothing there.

‘Are you sure you saw a mouse?’

‘I know what I saw - Bleach.’

‘What.’

‘We’ll bleach the place down.’

As I listen to the women discuss their plans for the cottage I watch Ruby move the flask from the table to the counter beside the sink. She unscrews the lid, loosening it and I frown at her. Her response is to smile back. Just then there is another loud clatter and the pan lid that was resting on the floor, begins to spin in the air. Earl has it resting on his staff and with a click of my fingers the lid spins to the floor where it topples and shudders with a clang. The two women turn. Their mouths hanging open as they watch the lid come to a slow stop.

This time my groan escapes for the women are staring at Earl, with drooping mouths.

 

The End


© Wynter Aodh