A Deal at The Swine and Claw

This deal at The Swine and Claw sets the scene for episode three, A Royal Froggy Problem. The baron is still seething in the aftermath of his big party, and Nora is his weapon of choice.

A Deal at The Swine and Claw

Nora took a sip of ale in the shadowy recesses of The Swine and Claw, waiting on her wizard associate to arrive. With the baron up at the palace, Nora had been left to conduct his more clandestine business in the city.

“Another?” Panna, the faun waitress, asked.

“Sure,” Nora sighed. “Trust a wizard to keep a witch versed in hexes waiting.”

Panna laughed and leaned in close. “I hear his master has been giving him a hard time. In all sorts of trouble over unpaid debts which he seeks magical solutions for.”

Nora chuckled. “If magic could conjure fortunes, the world would be a very different place.” 

Panna only nodded and swayed on her cloven hooves back to the bar. It was something of a ritual—these meetings at the only tavern for magical types in the city. Nora did a good trade in secrets and in return learned where she could acquire the more personal effects of those in the baron’s bad books. 

A hooded form slid into the chair across from her and Christophe pulled back his cowl. “Nora,” he nodded.

“I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Nora huffed. “It’s past bedtime for an old woman like me.”

Christophe smirked but remained silent as Panna returned with two mugs of ale. Nora thought it was likely prudent—not much escaped the faun’s notice.

“Now,” Nora cleared her throat. “I’ll need to know how I can get my hands on the toenails of Lord Walters.”

Christophe frowned into his mug. “What has that oaf done to insult the baron?”

Nora sighed. “Insulting the baron is one of his favorite pastimes. But ever since the incident at that shindig the baron hosted…”

“I heard it was spectacularly disgusting,” he took a sip of ale. “You wouldn’t have had anything to do with it, would you?”

“Me?” Nora grinned. “Now why would you even ask?”

The wizard shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “He keeps a strumpet in the city.”

“Lord Walters?” Nora leaned over the table. “That sounds promising.”

“I’ll have a note sent with the name,” he curled his lip. “I try not to get overly familiar with the details. What do you intend to do with his toenails?”

“Probably athlete’s foot or something. Only persistent enough for him to know it was a hex and not rancid socks.”

“I’ll never understand it,” The wizard narrowed his eyes. “Why do you pursue such frivolous magic?”

Nora pushed her spectacles up her nose. It wasn’t the first time their conversations had veered into wild debates. “At least it’s honest. Every lord and lady in the kingdom knows that trifling with the baron comes with uncomfortable afflictions. Not like the whispers of people disappeared entirely. That there is unconscionable and I wouldn’t stand for it, even with the might of the Wizard Academy at my back.”

Christophe waved his hand, and his shoulder sagged. “Not tonight, Nora. I need more than information this time. I’m seeking an item to put my lord at ease. He fears for his life, and will not eat a bite unless I have studiously examined each and every meal.”

Nora frowned. The wizard looked exhausted. “So go see an alchemist. Toadstones aren’t easy to come by, but they should be able to procure one.”

The wizard rubbed his eyes. “I have been explicitly instructed not to make this request known to the magical circles within the city. He fears his enemies would just find another way to do away with him.”

“So you want me to buy one for you?” Nora blinked.

“I will recompense you for your time. Ten percent of the value of the stone itself.”

Nora sat back in her seat and folded her arms. “Twenty.”

“Fifteen,” he barked.

Nora nodded slowly. Toadstones were valuable, fifteen percent of their worth would be a tidy sum.

“And if anyone hears of it,” Christophe glared, “disappearing will be the least of your problems.”

The wizard stood and stalked out the back of The Swine and Claw, leaving Nora to consider the offer. It made sense he would seek her out rather than leaving the money with a person without magical talent. Those alchemists were slippery, and like as not would sell them a painted rock. She could either go to an alchemist herself… or see if she couldn’t dredge up a giant toad on the baron’s lands herself.

This won’t be the only deal at The Swine and Claw…

And Gretchen will find herself quite surprised with Nora’s familiarity with the notorious tavern. With only three days until A Royal Froggy Problem hits the Amazon store, I hope you’ve got your pre-order ready to go!

Each week a new piece of bonus content will go up on the episode page, so be sue to check back to see what’s next.

Confession to the Baron

Bonus scene time! Yep, Confession to the Baron is that extra slice between the final scene in Of Hair and No hair and the party at the baron’s estate. Gretchen may be as stubborn as a mule, but she did agree to take the rap on this one!

Confession to the Baron

Gretchen stared at the stag’s head mounted behind the baron’s desk, imagining her own head there as she waited for the squat man to arrive. “You sure we should be in here? I could wait by the door. Maybe he needs to sleep off the hangover like the rest—”

“He’ll be here any minute. Insisted on me bringing you right away.” There was a certain smugness wafting from Nora, and Gretchen squirmed.

She supposed she deserved it. If not for what she was about to confess to. Even forgiven, she felt wretched for putting Nora in such a precarious position, and wondered how passing that pumpkin off as a legitimate entry seemed like a good idea at the time. Her Aunt Esme always said she was as stubborn as a mule.

The doors burst open behind them, and Gretchen turned with a jump. The baron stood in his dressing gown, his eyes bloodshot, but burning with outrage.

“You,” he spat. “The most incorrigible of witches in the land. If not for Nora, I would have your head for this!”

Gretchen swallowed and reached up to her neck despite herself. It wasn’t her first incident with the baron. “I wish to make an unreserved confession—”

“Hold it,” the baron held up his hand and as he strode to his desk. A fellow with bags hanging under his eyes followed behind him. “We shall have this properly recorded as evidence.”

The clerk sat at a small table in the corner and drew a clean sheet of parchment from a drawer. The baron landed in his chair with a thump and steepled his fingers on the desk. Gretchen sucked in her cheeks and awaited the barrage of questions.

“You stand accused, Gretchen Murkwood, of fraud by means of vegetable and vandalizing property belonging to the agent of our king.” he pressed his lips in a thin line. “That’s me. I’m the agent of the king.”

“I, um.” Gretchen cleared her throat. “Guilty on all counts. Turned in a magical hairy pumpkin at the fair and let off a swamp in your fancy fountain. Which I helped clean up, by the way.” 

“These grounds will not be rid of that stench for months,” the baron seethed. “Not to mention the guests. Every lord and lady in the kingdom was exposed to that filth. My good name has been ruined.”

Gretchen frowned. “That big guy from up north thought it was funny.”

The baron stood and puffed himself up, though Gretchen was fairly certain he was no taller than her. “Lord Walters would have enjoyed my humiliation very much.”

“Look, my bad.” Gretchen held her hands up. “On all counts. But I want to make myself clear. Nora knew nothing about any of this and I was especially crafty with the enchantment on the pumpkin. If she’d had even an inkling—”

“The vegetable competition?” he sneered. “You think I care about that?”

“Only insofar as clearing Nora of any wrongdoing.” Gretchen nodded. “You’ll have Mildred Sampson banging on your door next demanding that Nora be cast aside. It would be a grave injustice.” 

“Ugh,” the baron dropped to his chair with his head in his hands. “Not the Sampsons. Intolerable bunch the lot of them.”

“I’ll suffer any consequence, sir. Just so long as Nora keeps her title as judge at the county fair.” Gretchen held her chin high, wondering what kind of punishment the baron would dream up. Perhaps a public confession, or a week cleaning toilets.

“You will be banned from seeking entry to any vegetable competition on my lands henceforth.” A malevolent grin spread over his face. “And I sentence you to a week in the dungeon.”

Gretchen’s eyes boggled, and she held a hand to her chest. “A week? For a stink bomb? That’s a little excessive, don’t you think? I’m an old lady for pete’s sake!”

“And you must make amends with Mildred Sampson,” he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Should that old battleaxe turn up at my door I will keep you in the dungeon for an extra week.”

Gretchen bit back a reply lest she incur any extra jail time. She just hoped Nora would organize day release to her workroom while the guards weren’t watching. The bog in a box sounded like a good idea at the time, but to make it worth hanging out with rats in the dungeon, she would have to come up with a better prank… and she had a week to think about it.

Oh Gretchen…

She did have that coming though, and for the folks who have read Of Hair and No Hair, you’ll know that she did put thinks right with Mildred in the end.

For more bonus content, head over to the episode page where I collate each set of posts relevant to the books.

Categories: Ep 2

Paying One’s Dues

If you’ve read Of Hair and No Hair, you already know where Gretchen ended up after the baron’s swanky party. And once again illustrator Rod Savely has come up with the goods with this drawing.

You would have thought Gretchen would be used to the dungeon by now… Nora’s workroom at the baron’s estate is right beside it! But taking the rap for something she didn’t do (but thoroughly enjoyed) and faced with the prospect of going to Mildred’s house in the morning to apologize has put Gretchen in a foul temper.

I guess paying one’s dues is the less fun part of pranks and mud pits.

paying one's dues

And this is just setting the stage. Next week, I’ll bring you a bonus scene. Did you want to know how the confession to the baron went down? Stay tuned.

For more bonus content, check out the episode page where I keep the blog posts for each episode. And if you follow Gretchen on social media, you can keep up with these in real time.

Haven’t read the book? No problem. You can find it on Amazon here.

The Tallest Tower Franchise

I’m sure Rapunzel running The Tallest Tower hotel empire wasn’t what people had in mind when they saw that Of Hair and No Hair was a Rapunzel story. But everything is just a shade more cynical and skewed in the Gretchenverse, and I like to think that the stories feel a little more real because of that. But good on her, I say, and I think Nora has her finger on the pulse.

The Tallest Tower

“I don’t get it,” Gretchen waved her arm at the stone wall by the marketplace.

“Get what?” Nora shuffled over, adjusting her spectacles as she squinted at the poster newly plastered on the wall.

“This Rapunzel broad.” Gretchen thrust her chin out. “Spent all that time in captivity, needed a prince to bust her out of a tower without any doors, and then puts her mug on a poster for some gimmick hotel franchise.”

“I hear those towers are quite the retreat,” Nora smirked. “Noble women all over the countryside are quite taken with the notion.”

Gretchen rubbed her chin. “I wonder what happened with the prince that rescued her?”

Nora snickered and clapped Gretchen on the shoulder. “Perhaps she came to appreciate the solitude of the tower after a few months cleaning his underpants.”

“You know, I think you might be on to something there, Nora.” Gretchen chuckled. “And if she’s figured out how to sell that kind of peace and quiet, good on her.”

the tallest tower poster

Hope you got a kick out of that one!

Thanks again to Rod Savely for the illustration and my new software, Affinity Designer, for the poster.

For more bonus content, be sure to head over to the episode page and check back each week for more content. If you follow along on social media you’ll never miss a thing!

Haven’t read the book yet? No problem. You can pick it up on Amazon here.

Blue Pumpkins

Here’s a tale about that year Gretchen turned in a crop of blue pumpkins to the county fair. No wonder Mildred’s suspicion of magical tampering runs high in episode two, Of Hair and No Hair.

Blue Pumpkins

Gretchen had decided against the orange paint tucked away in the cart on the trip over to the county fair. There was nothing in the rule book that stated the pumpkins must be orange, but there was a strict no-tampering policy.

And this time, she could hand-on-heart say that she had not meddled with those pumpkins since planting them. She’d done it well before then. Gretchen never suspected that seed charm would have turned her pumpkin harvest bright blue.

She narrowed her eyes at the canvas sheet covering her crop. The others had all asked about it, and she’d given the same answer. There was nothing that stated she had to leave them in the sun all day, and she wouldn’t have them spoiling.

Nora gave her a level stare as she approached with her measuring tape, the entourage of onlookers and contestants following her. She’d given her pal the same nonsense, and Gretchen supposed the only thing that held her back from insisting she uncover them was not wanting to know what she’d done. Her position as the judge of the country fair put their friendship in a precarious position most years.

“Well?” she nodded toward the canvas. “You expect me to measure them like that?”

Mildred snickered, already gloating from her impressive measurements, then pressed her lips together. “Nothing to be ashamed of. We can see quite clearly they aren’t anything to write home about.”

Gretchen refrained from grinding her teeth. Mildred. Always with those snippy remarks. With a deep breath, she turned and braced herself as she flipped the canvas over.

It was dead silent, then the crowd burst into laughter.

“What is the meaning of this?” Nora growled.

Gretchen turned with her hands held up. “I swear, this new ‘trick’ I heard, watering pumpkins with blueberry juice, isn’t half as good as I thought it would be.”

It brought more laughter from the crowd, and only Nora and Mildred looked outraged.

“Blue this time?” Mildred curled her lip at Nora. “And what’s next? Square pumpkins next year? You can’t honestly believe this blueberry juice nonsense.”

Nora rubbed the bridge of her nose, her face stony, and she took a minute to consider the situation. “Gretchen Murkwood, the kitchen at the Baron’s estate deals in pumpkins bigger than those. Do you honestly wish to enter these into the competition?”

Gretchen considered the words carefully. If she said no, they wouldn’t be scrutinized. If Nora decided they had been interfered with, she could be disqualified for next year’s fair. And she was right, they were barely worth bringing at all. It was only the hope of the other contestants all encountering some kind of horrendous vegetable blight that had decided her. That, and pride.

“Well of course not,” Gretchen waved a hand. “These ones are prizes for the winners. And I’d certainly like to see what the bakers come up with. Blue pumpkin pies will be the talk of the town!”

Mildred looked as though she was sucking a lemon, and Nora only shook her head. They moved on in the procession and Gretchen dug out a fistful of seeds from her pocket.

“Never trusting that darn spell book again.” She threw them over her shoulder, and hoped next year she would be standing among a sprawling vine of blue pumpkins. It would be worth it just to see the look on Mildred’s face.

Was anyone ever going to believe her?

I think not. But we all know Gretchen did not learn the lesson she needed to (if you have read Of Hair and No Hair.)

I’ll be adding more bonus bits to the blog each week, so be sure to check back in on the episode page to keep up to date.

Haven’t read it yet? No problem. You can find Of Hair and No Hair on Amazon here.