Gretchen stirred the gloopy green mixture in her cauldron with a paddle and wore a wide grin at the skeptical looks on people’s faces as they dropped each offering in. The brew promised to be a potluck of trouble this year, and the townsfolk knew it was bad luck to refuse a sip at the winter solstice.
“Excellent work on the baubles this year, Suzanna,” Gretchen waved to the Christmas tree in the town square now glittering with decorations. She gave the cup a tentative sniff and approved heartily of the smell on aniseed in the liquor. “Ah yes, this will do nicely.”
Into the cauldron it went, and Suzanna, the grocer’s wife, gave Gretchen a sheepish look before scuttling away. Gretchen marked her as one that might make themselves scarce come time for the cups to be passed around and made a note to look out for her in the crowd.
“Almost done, folks!” Gretchen called out. “Last minute titbits welcomed. Or perhaps I might throw a boot in this year. Leather balances the flavors rather well.”
Biting her cheek to keep from laughing, Gretchen watched the milling crowd of people wrapped in warm woollen cloaks collectively cast around for something less offensive to throw in the pot.
Carousing was one of Gretchen’s favorite traditions, and while townsfolk tried to fob off the solstice as merely a celebration of having put up the Christmas decorations, deep down they knew better. Murkwoods had dragged a cauldron to the center of Edgewater for generations—whatever the weather—and even in years when snow came down, accommodations were made. With clear skies, there was no need for a tent to be erected, and cheery fires burned in braziers around tables laden with food.
It was Rosie, the butcher’s wife, who came forward with another cup, and this time Gretchen didn’t catch the noxious scent of alcohol that was the usual offering.
“Here, some hot cocoa should do the trick.” She poured it in herself, the woman less leery of witches than others in town, and peered curiously down at the mixture. “Good grief! Whatever made it green?”
“Hm, let’s see.” Gretchen rubbed her chin. “Could have been the collard greens, or maybe the wasabi powder—don’t worry, only a pinch of that. I think we might need some extra liquid though, that starch has really taken hold in there.”
Gretchen had to give Rosie some credit. She only flinched a little. “I’ll fetch a bucket of water. Perhaps with a little honey to counter the spice.”
“Terrific,” Gretchen chuckled, and kept up the work of stirring. “The more the merrier.”
With the sun dipping down behind the buildings surrounding the square, folks carried candles between each lantern to illuminate the space. Most people were lined up to get a plate of fine fare, and Gretchen knew someone would be by before long to leave her an assorted platter filled with the housewives very best recipes.
But it was almost time to cast the spell, so she plucked the linen bag from her pouch, which held the dusty leavings of her herb cupboard accumulated throughout the year. Bouncing on the balls of her feet, Gretchen wondered where Rosie had gotten to, and was almost about to go ahead when the plump woman elbowed her way back over.
“Here.” She started pouring, and Gretchen hastened with the paddle to emulsify the mixture into an even texture. “Wonder what we’ve got in store this year? I hope we don’t all sprout tails again.”
“I have a good feeling about this one.” Gretchen bit her lip and gave the paddle a good thwack on the side of the cauldron before propping it out of the way. “Been an interesting year of potion brewing. A bit more variety in my herb cupboard.”
Gretchen didn’t want to think about the two years in a row when all the potion did was give everyone a case of the hiccups. She rated the second time among the most embarrassing of her witchy career.
“Just a bit of good luck, hm? Maybe we all find some missing trinkets around the house. I’ve been looking for one of my earrings for months now, and-“
“We’ll see.” Gretchen didn’t want to cut the woman off, but timing was critical and the sun was just about set.
Upending her herb scraps over the roiling mess, they floated gently down to the surface, and bubbles carried them down into the gloop. Gretchen held up her hands to chant the spell handed down to her, the rising steam tickling her fingertips. With the final words, a dull puffing sound told her the potion was done, and a couple of people who looked well into their cups gave stray whoops.
“Well, there we have it.” Gretchen dusted off her hands and looked around for the mayor. “Bottoms up, good folk of Edgewater. The return of the sun is upon us. May it’s rays melt the ice and leave your fields fertile and green.”
A general cheer sounded across the square, and Gretchen grinned broadly. It was the one time of year she felt truly welcomed by the village. She wasn’t alone in pointing out folks who tried to shirk their share of the potion. Others would call them out and make jokes about scorning the witch’s blessing. The mayor, already ruddy-faced with liquor, came forth with his arms up and a benevolent smile.
“Ah, yes.” He called out. “The customary sip. May the effects be temporary, and the good luck lingering.”
Gretchen used her dipper to pour a small measure into a wooden cup and handed it over. Butterflies in her belly produced a girlish giggle, and she hoped this year’s effects were at least funny.
The mayor held up the cup, then took a sip as the townsfolk clapped. His eyes bugged out a little, then he held his hand to his stomach and burped.
A purple cloud erupted from the mayor’s mouth, and Gretchen cackled. It promised to be a good night.
Carousing wasn’t my idea.
My trusted first reader Mike was helping me get some witchy traditions together for the story, and while I couldn’t include this one due to timelines, it was too good to throw out. Technically a few days before the events of A Very Krampy Christmas, it’s still plenty festive.
Haven’t read A Very Krampy Christmas? No problem. You can find it here.
Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page in question.