Beyond Freedom

“She won’t eat us.” Bertie threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. “All she’s done since I climbed into her pouch is help!”

“Then what are all those cauldrons for, hm?” Terrence, the eldest of their party grumbled. 

Bertie sagged against a terracotta pot and bemoaned having the same argument day and night with his newly-released peers. “She’s a wisewoman. One who sells cures. We are safe here. I’ve no wish to return to the Arctic where we’ll only wait to be recaptured by slavers.”

Any mention of slavers brought about a fragile silence, and Bertie pressed on with what he knew would lift their spirits. “But Piper! She is our champion. So long as we are near her, we won’t come to harm. The witch listens to her. Does almost everything she says.”

Terrance nodded reluctantly, as did the rest of their party. “I suppose that’s true,” he conceded. “These big folk are strange. I can’t understand why it seems like the little ones are in charge.”

Nettle laced her fingers in Bertie’s, and though she was usually the quietest among them, she spoke up. “I believe she is a child prodigy. Powerful beyond all others. You saw what happened. The witch was captured almost as soon as she arrived. In a cloak of invisibility, the young one achieved what the witch could not.”

“But the head witch—Cordisomething—ordered her about.” Soren argued. “She can’t be that powerful.”

“Ah, but it was only after closeting herself away with Piper that she agreed to take up our cause.” Bertie held his finger up. “Young Piper must have bewitched her.”

“A witch bewitching a witch?” Terrence huffed. “That’s absurd. I’ll take my chances with a yeti before throwing my lot in with such strange folk. I haven’t done a day’s honest work since arriving here, and idle hands make for an early grave. Besides, I don’t trust that cat. He’s been stalking us all week.”

Nettle blinked up at Bertie through long eyelashes and swallowed. “I don’t like the cat either.”

“Then we get jobs!” Bertie exclaimed. “Find our place in this world. We know our craft. And with the leathersmith out of business people will need someone to mend holes in their boots and broken belt buckles. We could start our own enterprise.”

“Where will we get the money, Bert?” Soren rubbed the bridge of his nose. “A workshop, supplies, lodging… and who would buy anything from our kind?”

“Well…” Bertie took a deep breath. “It won’t happen overnight, certainly. But give it some time, and make ourselves useful to the witch perhaps, and—”

“I’ll not stir that woman’s cauldrons and bottle her brews.” Terrance made a face. “Have you seen what she puts in there? Never mind what she eats. This morning I believe it was pickled liver on toast!”

“Piper then.” Bertie gave them all a level stare. “We make ourselves useful to the little one, and she will lead us to prosperity and good fortune. Unless of course you want to start walking to the Arctic. I hear it’s a long way whatever the method of travel.”

“Do we have to swear allegiance?” Nettle asked.

“If she asks, I’ll be first to bend the knee.” Bertie lifted his chin in the air. “And you lot would be fools to decline such an offer.”

Nettle squeezed Bertie’s hand and the others grumbled an agreement. Bertie knew the argument would start all over again tomorrow, but for now their assent was enough. He was sure Piper would come through with something soon. Even as he was chipping away at his brethren’s icy veneer, she also championed their cause.

A messiah of Elves, huh?

I’m not sure Piper saw that one coming. If you haven’t read An Elvish Sweatshop 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.

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 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.

The Silver Plate

Gavin stared at the plate, then glanced at the mug of coffee in his hands. Barely awake, he blinked against the soft glow of the etched silver and wondered if he’d indeed risen from bed or was in a dream state.

“Terry?” he called.

His paramour wasn’t inclined to wake early, and he waited for what seemed like an age for Terry to stumble into the workshop bleary eyed. He wasn’t looking at Gavin though, and gaped at what Gavin thought mustn’t be an apparition after all.

“But how’d you…” Terry rubbed his eyes. “Did Gretchen..?”

“She might be a trickster, but this hardly seems like a joke.” Gavin set his mug aside and picked up the plate tentatively. It was cool to the touch, no cooler than usual on a frigid morning, and Terry commandeered his mug to take a swig of coffee.

“Then what?” He gave an appreciative murmur and leaned against Gavin’s shoulder. “Your work is beautiful, but a glowing plate is something else altogether. That looks like it belongs in a palace.”

And not hanging on the wall at Farmer McBride’s humble homestead, Gavin reckoned. He turned the plate slowly, lest the enchantment slip away, but the etchings only caught the dim light of coals on the hearth, sending a glittering reflection off the walls.

“I could sell this for a small fortune.” Gavin’s mind turned with the need to understand how it was done.

He’d left the plate out on the bench after perhaps one too many brandies the night before. Nothing looked out of place – perhaps a little untidier than he normally kept his tools – but nothing that stood out. As he was mentally retracing his steps, a flash of movement in a dark corner caught his notice, and he grimaced when he recognized the leaping motion of a krampus toad. There was no keeping them out, it seemed, but keeping his silver in a stout lockbox kept them from making off with his wares… except.

“The toads.” Gavin blinked. “I’ve worked on nothing bigger than buckles since Christmas. I figured the plate was too heavy for them to cart away.”

Terry scratched his head and craned his head to look for the intermittent movement of their new infestation. “You think they did this?”

“They like silver,” Gavin ventured. “And booze.”

Terry picked up the overturned bottle of brandy, with only dregs remaining in the bottom. “If that’s all it takes-“

“We could be rich.” Gavin’s stomach fizzed with excitement. “This is exactly the kind of thing the nobility would drool over.”

I’m glad the Krampus Toads are working out for some…

Though I’m sure the innkeeper at The Seedy Apple is having a harder time of it. It’s been nice in the past few episodes to re-visit some older characters, and I was glad to bring Gavin back on set.

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

Or for more bonus content, head back to the episode page where I keep it curated for each title.