Nora and Gretchen’s trip to the Witches’ Academy in A Royal Froggy Problem brought back a flood of memories for Gretchen’s time there as a student. This week, I thought I’d put together a story of truancy and fireworks from Gretchen’s youth. She was as much trouble then as she is now!
Youth, Truancy, and Fireworks
Gretchen scowled as she scrubbed the endless pile of plates brought down from the dining hall. It wasn’t her fault that old Chancellor Inglewood happened to walk past her table when she let off the fire cracker spell.
If she thought keeping Gretchen in the kitchens would prevent her from giving the cook the slip to see the fire show, she was sadly mistaken.
Aunt Esme would have seen the humor in it. Gretchen doubted that her aunt would give her much by way of reprimand when she went home at the end of the semester. She never did, much to her sister Cordelia’s disgust.
Gretchen watched Cook from the corner of her eye as she dutifully scrubbed the remains of the thick stew that was the students usual fare from the mostly chipped crockery. The woman was formidable, and it wasn’t the first time Gretchen had fallen afoul of the stout guardian of the kitchen. That would make it harder to sneak out from under her upturned nose, but the risk was worth the reward.
The fire show only took place once a year, and at fifteen, Gretchen was now considered old enough to attend the ceremony which was largely officiated by the Wizard’s Guild. The royalty and all the nobles of the land would be up on stage, waving to the small folks who gathered in the market square. But Gretchen wasn’t interested in their pomp.
If she could get her hands on some proper fireworks, she was sure she could improve her pyrotechnic skills. It wasn’t a brand of sorcery that the Witches’ Academy encouraged and was dominated by snooty wizards favored by the gentry. But some nights Gretchen fancied spending the rest of her life on the road, perhaps with a traveling band of performers, and having a bag of tricks would be the right step in that direction.
“I don’t have all night,” Cook tittered. “Always the same with you youngsters. Arms like lead, as if they wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit them on the backside.”
Gretchen ground her teeth, fighting the urge to make reference to the harridan’s own wide backside. If she would just take a sip of that darn tea by the fire…
“Nothing to say for yourself?” she clucked. “A first for everything I suppose.”
Gretchen heard, rather than saw, Cook shuffle toward the fireplace where the only chair in the room sat. She smothered a smile and dropped another stack of plates in the sink. When she heard an undignified slurp, she counted to ten before risking a glance over her shoulder.
Already, Cook’s eyelids drooped, and if she noticed the young witch watching her, she didn’t give any sign of it. She knew she hadn’t gotten the brew quite right from the shade of yellow the woman was turning, but her breathing seemed easy enough. Gretchen grabbed a cloth to dry her hands while wearing a smug smile, then draped the wet, stained towel over Cook’s face before creeping into the hallway with a bucket of refuse under one arm.
It was the oldest trick in the book, getting out through the doors which lead to the middens. In her first years at the Academy, she had read a discarded journal from centuries earlier of another student who’d used the same method for truancy. It was a wonder nothing had been done about it, although Gretchen thought the teachers rather enjoyed administering punishment.
Her feet were light on the more utilitarian floors, and she let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding when she rounded a corner and saw the back door clear of anyone who would interfere. Dropping the bucket by the door, she dusted off her hands and pushed the heavy door open with her shoulder. When she turned toward the street, she was nose to nose with Chancellor Inglewood.
“Not this time, Gretchen Murkwood.” Gretchen shuddered at the flinty tone in the Chancellor’s voice. “You think I didn’t expect some kind of trickery? Let’s see what state you left Cook in this time, so I can punish you accordingly.”
Gretchen’s shoulders sagged, and she stepped aside to let Chancellor Inglewood past her. As the old woman’s heeled boots struck the timber floor of the hallway, Gretchen slammed the door closed and sprang away down the alley. She ran as fast as her feet would curry her, and despite the shriek coming from the alleyway, she was soon lost in a press of people on the street waiting for the night’s festivities.
She knew she would pay dearly for her transgressions. But she would make sure the night was worth it.
I hope it was worth it!
I can’t quite decide if she got her goodies in the end, but I’ll leave that in your hands as the reader. If you haven’t read A Royal Froggy Problem, it is currently available on Amazon with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Or if you’re looking for more bonus content, head back to the episode page where I keep it all in one spot.