"Morning Red." She drawled handing off the mug of tea she had just poured as Meg took a spot at the small bar that wrapped the front of the shop. She quickly made a to-go cup of Red’s favorite green tea with cherry blossoms and a squirt of honey. Red slid a packet of letters across the bar and took a happy sip of the drink.
"Thanks, what do I owe you?"
"On the house, bring me one of those books we were talking about last time."
“Deal,” she said with a grin. Most of the rules associated with the fae dealt with exchange, nothing was free. Most fae expected a gift when you showed up in their turf asking for something. Anything given was meant to be repaid in some form or another. “Anything for Charlie?"
"Not today. Are you heading past St. Michael’s?"
"Yeah, need a message dropped?"
"If you don’t mind…" She said pulling out a scrap of paper and jotting a quick note before sealing it with a press of lips and a small flare of red light, sliding it across the counter. “Bran should be out feeding the pigeons this time of day. Give him a kiss for me.” She said with a wicked grin.
Red ignored the heat beating in her cheeks and tucked the paper into her bag. She slipped out the café as the next customer grabbed Sara’s attention. Wheeling her bike she sipped tea making her way through the market. She picked up a few small things both for herself and for friends or clients of the pub, dropping off notes and small packages from different clients of the pub as she went.
Bran was different than the rest of the pub’s customers. He never wore a band, as far as the world was concerned he was human but there was something about him that said otherwise. For a human that looks barely older then Red’s twenty years he was known by nearly every fae she knew. Bran was the one they went to when they needed some special herb or item that only another fae would have. He had a knack for tracking down old manuscripts and rumors; he was the one you went to when you needed information that no one else would admit to knowing.
It did not help that he was smart, funny, and good looking, Red thought, suppressing another blush as she tossed her empty cup and began biking toward St. Michael’s. Bran was a busker and would play fiddle and flute for change in the parks during the day while trading his information and wares in the markets on his afternoons. Most humans would glance at Bran and never take a second glance, hurrying away. Maybe he had simply been around the fae for so long that some of their magic had rubbed off but most people seemed unable to be around him long.
One thing he definitely had learned from the fae was his music. He was set up to one side of the square when she approached, grinning as he played a lively reel. He gave her a small nod as he played grinning at the small group that had paused to listen. Abruptly, the song morphed and twisted into an older strain, a haunting, crying song that made Red’s bones resonate and forced her attention to narrow until he was all she could see. Bran’s dark eyes took on a haunted cast as he dragged out the song, his features hardening into a promise of violence, swaying as he played. It was a broken lament, full of power and ache, pulling at pain filled memories and old injuries. Red forced herself to breathe through the pain that flared along her shoulders and back, throbbing in counterpoint to the melody. It only lasted a few minutes but the square was frozen watching the fiddler as he lowered his instrument and began to pack up. A shaky smattering of applause rose for a moment as the watchers moved on, feet moving at a fear quickened clip.
“Hey, Red.” He said with a small quirk of his lips, “Running messages this fine morning?”
“Yes,” she said extending the slip of paper for him to take, “Sara sends her love.” She said with a grin. “Did you chase everyone away to talk with me?” she asked hesitantly watching him jerkily snap the locks on his case.
“No, sadly not, sometimes a reminder is simply needed.” He said his face seeming to age as she watched his eyes much too old for his young body.
“A reminder of pain…?” she questioned softly.
“A reminder of endings, nothing lasts forever, Red, not even the hunter.” He shouldered his pack and fiddle case. “How goes it at the pub, Charlie still dabbling in too many pies?”
“No more than normal, I think. I’m just the hired help, remember.” She said with a small smile. Charlie was always working on something in the back of the pub. He lived in the rooms above the pub and often would take other fae to his rooms in the early morning hours as they got ready to close. Red did not know what went on in these meetings but they seemed to be happening more and more. “Does he need help? I can keep an eye out if it’s needed.” She offered.
“Things are stirring, Red, it would be wise for all of us to keep an eye out.” He said tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow with a small smile and leading her away from the square. He followed her on the rest of her runs chatting about fae they both knew and the general gossip of the pub. He left her at the stoop of her apartment building with a courtly kiss to her knuckles and a jester’s grin as he turned and ambled away whistling a jig. She watched him go with a sigh before turning and heading upstairs, she still had to dye her hair back to its normal flaming red before she went to bed later tonight.
The next afternoon as she made her way to the pub she passed two snarling Were that Charlie was escorting out of the parking lot. Ray and Todd the cook were cleaning up a splintered table and several broken chairs with the help of a few regulars. Red hurried to help, grabbing rags to mop up spilled drinks and broken glassware.
“What got those two in such a snit?” Ray demanded, “That guy just walked up and tried to kill Chuck.”
“One of the pack leaders is sick, half the packs in the area are falling apart and reorganizing while they try and find a new head.”
“Great. Can we ban them until it is settled?” Ray asked as they took the last load of broken wood to the back alley.
“Afraid not, it would be seen as refusing to cater to their race.” Charlie said, dumping a tray of broken glass. “I can get a bouncer for the pub until things settle back down. I’ll call James tonight and see if he can come or if he knows someone else who might.”
Ray and Red shared a grin. James was a Were himself but was not part of any of the local packs. He was a Were-fox, his own pack in Ireland while he traveled as an emissary for several packs.