Keeping in Touch

Nora gave Gretchen an enchanted notebook way back in episode 7, The Troll and the Minotauress. It’s kind of like an arcane smartphone of sorts, and they communicate regularly through it. While Nora wasn’t around for The Kingmaker’s Sword, we knew she was off on her new appointment releasing cursed souls. But afterward, those two caught each other up on recent events.

Haven’t read The Kingmaker’s Sword yet? No problem, you can check it out here.

Looking for more bonus content? You can check out the episode page where I keep posts in the one spot for each title.

A Useful Tradition

After a few days of snow, Gretchen thought it would be a good idea to show Piper another new Christmas tradition, and set about building her annual snowman with full witch regalia.

“Why does a snowman need a broomstick?”

“Well magic or no, you still need something to sweep the paths with.”

“It actually sweeps?”

“Only when you’re not looking. It might look small now, but after a few weeks it’ll look like a snow monster.”

“How does it work?”

“I’ve had that hat and cloak for as long as I can remember. It’s been handed down in the Murkwood family for generations. All I know is I don’t have to shovel snow when this guy is out in the yard. The broom can be any kind. But if it doesn’t have one, nothing happens.”

“You don’t even wonder how it works?”

“Kid, there’s something to be said for graciously accepting help from wherever it comes from. Particularly housework. You go asking too many questions and you risk upsetting the harmony of things.”

Haven’t read A Very Krampy Christmas yet? No problem, you can check it out here.

Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page where I keep it all in the one spot.

Immortal Love

Agelada, the minotauress with the soul of a poet, captured the heart of an enchanted troll with her words and their shared love of literature. I thought this poem was fitting, and of course it was adapted from the well known work of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, How do I Love Thee?

Haven’t read The Troll and the Minotauress? No problem, you can check it out here.

Or if you’re looking for more bonus content, you can find it all in the one place on the episode page.

Waylaid in the Night

I love the expression on Gretchen’s face in this one. The illustrator, Rod Savely always gets these pictures spot on. But this time, I had to send it back because I forgot the mention the horseman was headless! Oops. It really is a testament to the man’s skills though – even after squinting at it, I couldn’t even tell the picture had been modified.

waylaid in the night

Haven’t read The Head of the Horseman? No problem, check it out here.

Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page where I keep it in the one spot.

An Unlikely Visitor

I was actually pretty happy with how Bertie came to be introduced into the story in An Elvish Sweatshop, even if it took Gretchen completely by surprise. Once again, Rod Savely has done a stellar job in putting this sketch together, right down to the cracks in the corner of Gretchen’s poor cottage!

Gretchen and Bertie

Haven’t read An Elvish Sweatshop? No problem, you can check it out here.

Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page where I keep it all in the one place.

Categories: ep 9

A Magical Mishap

Another illustration by Rod Savely got me rather excited as it brings to life our newest character Piper. She really did have a rough night on Christmas Eve, and I’m glad Gretchen took a real shine to her. I like to think she spends more time smiling these days, but this does capture the essence of the story, if not the happier ending.

Gretchen and Piper

Haven’t read A Very Krampy Christmas yet? No problem, check it out here.

For more bonus content, head back to the episode page where I keep it all in the one place.

A Witchy Tradition

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.

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A Plea for Help

“But you have to help!” Piper bunched her fists at her sides and glared at the woman Gretchen said was her sister. From what she could see they were nothing alike, and Piper couldn’t figure out why she didn’t seem upset at the news of the arrest. “I can’t get her out, I’m only a kid.”

Vice-Chancellor Murkwood sat behind her desk with a ghost of a smile on her lips. “If my sister has gotten herself arrested, it’s her responsibility to prove her innocence. The Witches Academy obeys the rule of law like any other. My concern is for your welfare. I can barely see you from that draught you’ve taken. It will take hours yet for you to become fully visible.”

“But the elves—”

“There’s nothing to be done at this hour, and I’ll have no more arguments.” 

“You didn’t even listen—”

“Enough,” Vice-Chancellor Murkwood snapped. “In the morning, I’ll speak to the elves myself and get a firm account on what has happened. It’s clear the wretches are traumatized. I’ll make sense of their babbling in the clear light of day, and decide how to proceed. In the meantime, it’s your situation we must discuss.”

Piper folded her arms and regretted having come to the academy in the first place. If she’d followed Gretchen to the dungeons, she might have slipped the key from a guard and busted her free.

“As a budding witch, your place is here at the academy. I’ve read the report from Christmas Eve, and it’s clear you’ve come into your powers. Unless you are taught to properly harness the magic inside you, the threat of another incident remains.” She took a deep breath. “Living with my sister is hardly appropriate. You should be here among your peers getting a proper education.”

“Gretchen said I was too young,” Piper protested. “And I like living with her. She teaches me all kinds of things. She even wants me to go to school somewhere in the city. See? She’s trying to do the right the right thing, even if it is a dumb idea.”

“A dumb idea?” Vice-Chancellor Murkwood’s eyebrows knitted together. “You don’t see the value in knowledge?” 

“I’d rather learn useful stuff.” Piper chewed her lip, wondering if she was somehow betraying Gretchen by admitting she’d rather learn magic. “I already know how to read and do sums.”

“Then you should be here.” Vice-Chancellor steepled her fingers on her desk.

“Oh yeah?” Anger flared in Piper’s belly. “I saw you in the marketplace. I know you were blackmailing Gretchen into sending me here. She doesn’t have the money to pay for the trouble I caused. It shouldn’t be her problem, it’s me who should have to pay it back. But you used that to get her to do what you wanted.”

The Vice-Chancellor’s jaw dropped, and she was silent for a moment before she gestured for Piper to sit. Grudgingly, Piper dropped onto the velvet upholstered chair with a rigid jaw.

“Members of the academy are charged with resolving magical problems in the kingdom, and act as agents when incidents occur. It was Gretchen’s responsibility to get the plague of krampuses under control.” She spoke carefully, as if trying to impress each word on her. “You were a part of the events, and it remains her responsibility to ensure that no more magical mishaps occur. I only ask that you come to the academy to learn.”

“What if I agree?” Tears welled in Piper’s eyes. “I’ll work off the debt myself. Just so long as you go and save Gretchen from prison.”

The Vice-Chancellor searched her face, and Piper saw emotion in her features. Sniffling, she hoped the woman would agree.

“You could go back to Edgewater on semester breaks, maybe even a weekend or two.” Vice-Chancellor Cordelia offered a half smile. “I can’t make any promises about freeing her until I have all the facts.”

“I can come every day. If she’s released, I can fly with Gretchen to the city every morning and be here on time. I can’t leave Monty behind, and if I’m always here, Gretchen might get lonely. And she promised to teach me how to…” Piper clicked her teeth shut, thinking it wouldn’t be wise to let on about pranking spells.

Vice-Chancellor Cordelia pressed her lips together in a thin line and narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know who Monty is, or what spells my sister is teaching you. But in the morning, we’ll see what we can do.”

“Really?” Piper sprang up from her chair. “You’ll get her out?”

Sighing, the woman across the desk shook her head, at once looking weary and resigned. “I’ll try.”

And so Piper saved the day

And if you’ve read An Elvish Sweatshop, you’ll know they headed down to the magistrates court in the morning to sort out the mess. If you haven’t read it, you can pick up a copy here.

Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page where I keep it all in the one place.

More Than a Hat

While a witch is a strange sight without her hat, for Gretchen, the absence of her arcane regalia cuts a little deeper. This note casts some light on her attachment to it.

I can see why she wants it back so badly in The Head of the Horseman. Haven’t read it yet? No problem. You can find it here.

Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page where you’ll find it curated in the one spot.

Gone Fishing

Jurgen nailed the crudely painted sign above the door to The Salt and Bog, hoping it would steer the barflies away for a time. He was sick of turning the miscreants away personally, with their prying questions and pitiful looks. Jurgen supposed it was Nora’s doing that he hadn’t seen a single gnome all day, even if he’d sent her away in a huff the night before.

But the sanctity of a ‘gone fishing’ sign would surely be respected by the tavern’s mostly male customers. If it wasn’t… well perhaps a spell of fishing wouldn’t be a bad idea.

After barring the door behind him, Jurgan studiously ignored half-empty tankards as he made his way to the kitchen and up the stairs. The mess could wait until he cared. If he ever could care again.

His tousled bed sheets called to him, and kicking off his boots, Jurgen climbed back into bed with only a mind for seeking oblivion. Agelada. His kindred spirit forever lost to him.

The crumpled love letters on the nightstand—read and reread in a self indulgent pity party—were too tempting to rehash, so Jurgen crammed them into a drawer and dragged his hands over his face.

Then a bang on the front door sounded downstairs, and Jurgen bellowed in a wordless snarl. All he wanted was to be left alone. Tugging the blanket up over his head, Jurgen clenched his teeth and screwed his eyes shut in the hope they’d give up and go away.

But as the banging only became more insistent, Jurgen climbed out of bed with a mind to get away from The Salt and Bog and into the sheltering depths of the nearby forest. Grabbing a cloak, he pinned it around his shoulders and stuffed a bag with blankets should his travels take him further afield. His fishing pole and gear remained in the storeroom downstairs, and he snuck down to tie the equipment together with a stout leather belt.

Thankfully whoever was calling had the decency to knock on the front door, so Jurgen slipped out the back and over the fence toward the wall of trees across the field. He didn’t look back once, and nobody called out to stop him.

Spending time out in the wilds conjured mixed feelings for the enchanted troll. While he was sure he had no brethren nearby, there was something about being away from the reminders of everyday life that evoked a strange longing. It didn’t make sense—it wasn’t like he wanted to live like a beast under a bridge again—but the struggle to understand why and what he was only underlined one pertinent fact. As a talking troll who ran a tavern, he would only ever be a curiosity to others. He belonged nowhere and to no one. The only other soul who could understand that kind of loneliness was her.

The smell of damp earth filled Jurgen’s senses before the sounds of running water. The Solar River cut through the forest on its path to Edgewater, and at least upstream from the village the waters were clear and the fish in good supply. He settled onto an accommodating rock jutting from the sandy soil within angling distance, but didn’t reach for his fishing pole just yet.

Jurgen couldn’t decide if he believed in fate. If his path was guided by the hands of an intangible force, the lot he’d been given seemed all the more cruel. To find and lose someone who understood him completely—all in the blink of an eye—served no greater purpose as far as he could see. Though with the revelations of Agalada’s immortality, perhaps he’d been simply a vehicle for her enlightenment. 

Jurgen reached into his pack for some bait, and a flash of light from his periphery caught his eye. Surging from the water was a glimmering lithe form, and Jurgen felt anger rise from his belly.

“Isn’t there anywhere I can go be alone?” he spat at the water nymph.

Her laughter was infuriatingly light—like the trickling of water through riverstones— and she propelled herself further from the water’s surface in a dazzling twirl. “Alone is dangerous for one in your condition. Your mood sours my landscape, and brings a heavy cloud over my domain.”

“Fine,” Jurgen grunted as he stood. “I’ll go fish someplace else.” 

“I think not,” she chided. “For one who reaches through the veil would have your attention.”

Jurgen blinked at the Naiad, untrusting of her cryptic words.

“Water may not be her element, but nature is close enough.” The Naiad crooked her finger. “Come. Her spirit is roiling with turbulence. I’d not have my equilibrium disrupted much longer.”

Struck dumb, it took a moment for Jurgen to convince his feet to propel him forward. He kicked off his boots by the water and waded in upto to his knees, the Naiad meeting him half way.

“There,” she crooned, then her face took on a nasty scowl. “I’ll only suffer this intrusion once and fleetingly. If I see you near my waters again, I’ll make it my business to drown you.” 

Her form swelled and morphed into something alarmingly familiar. Long curved horns sprouted from the side of her watery head and the shape of her eyes were an aching reminder of their deep brown color. He reached and stopped just short of stroking an ear which should have been velvet-soft, and felt his eyes clouding with tears.

“Jurgy,” her voice sounded off, but her pet name for him couldn’t have been conjured by a trickster nymph. “We didn’t have a proper goodbye. My soul has been restless since the explosion.” 

“Agelada,” Jurgen breathed. He reached to cup her cheek, stopping just short of the swelling water. “But how?”

“I was perhaps not as truthful with you in life as I should have been. My age… and how I came to be bound to the island is something I prefer not to dwell on. But those are not secrets that consume me.” Her eyes welled with tears, strangely distinct with her watery features. “The look on your face when I destroyed the pillar. I felt no physical pain, only the tearing of my heart.”

“We could have found another way.” Jurgen shook his head and felt a tear slide down his cheek. “If Gretchen hadn’t—”

“Don’t blame her.” Agelada closed her eyes. “She was right, you know? I was so attached to this plane, I was willing to overlook the atrocities Locathil inflicted with my labyrinth. He had to be stopped, and the only way it could happen was… well, I did what was right.”

The words stung, and though they rang true, Jurgen wanted desperately not to believe them. “There’s no undoing it now. But if I… can we be together beyond the veil?”

“Don’t even think it.” The water holding Agelada’s form shuddered. “I will not welcome you there until you’re old and gray, Jurgy. You have life left to live, and I wouldn’t see your candle snuffed before time.”

The water continued to lurch, and fearful she would disappear, Jurgen abandoned the notion. “Stay. Don’t leave me again.”

“I must.” Agelada’s voice trembled. “The naiad grows impatient. But I came to tell you that I love you. And that one day, we’ll be together again. Your flame burns bright Jurgy, and you have much that lies ahead of you. Seek peace, and step forward again into the land of the living.”

Jurgen’s heart leaped into his throat as the column of water twisted, and he reached into it’s churning maelstrom as though he could pluck his beloved out. The water collapsed, and Jurgen sank to his knees in the river, the sandy bed giving under his weight. The Naiad must have thought better of returning to taunt him, as the river ‘s current once again flowed calm. Broken, Jurgen didn’t care about the water seeping into his coat or the tears flowing freely down his cheeks.

She was gone again, but he whispered the words all the same. “I love you too.”

Poor Jurgen

As the author, I think I really need to make amends for his heartbreak! Falling in love with a Minotauress may have been a doomed proposition, but I just know there’s plenty of space in this guy’s big heart for happiness.

Haven’t read The Troll and the Minotauress? You can check it out online here. Looking for more bonus content? Head back to the episode page where I keep it all in the one spot.