A Gretchen Rant – The Scribe of the Realm

Gretchen here. Ever wondered who’s in charge of the history books?

This guy. The Scribe of the Realm. A snooty nose cretin who, in Mrs. Hughes’ words, has ‘a mouth like a cat’s caboose’ and is a ‘pretentious little quill twirler’. I like Mrs. Hughes, made of stern stuff that broad.

But the scribe. His job is to make the big guys look good. And make folks like us looks like depraved creatures of dim wit and foul stench. What would he know, anyhow? I’ll wager when he has a boil on his backside he’s the first to seek out a reputable witch for a cure.

That whole fiasco with the prince is a case in point. When THAT proclamation was handed out I was ripe to go past and ram that quill of his right in his ear. Lapped it up they did, the townsfolk, whispering about evil witches while I was standing around with them! Not that I’m complaining about the gold, you see, but what he says just ain’t right.

It’s like Nora says…

The stigma that comes with being an outsider among normal folks can only be broken with good ole fashion truth telling. And that state sponsored propaganda fuels those old stereotypes that gets gals like us pushed to the fringes of society. We should go on strike, is what we should do. Let them get by with what those quacks they call doctors can rummage up from their stores of bat guano and rams testicles. That’d learn em.

One of these days I’m going to get square with this guy. Maybe write a memoir, chronicling my encounters with his venomous words and promotion of hate speech. The day it is a comin’. When people won’t stand for it any longer. When they wake up and realize they were allowing all this to happen. It’s already started with the bill passed for the rights of enchanted folks. That there was a dam ready to burst. And if I remember rightly, the Scribe had a piece in the Golden Gazette saying the end times were coming. I’ll bet nobody remembers him saying that, now, do they?

Maybe I should start a hashtag. That’s what folks do when they’re bound by confidentiality agreements, isn’t it? State there is one in place and come up with a term for the general pop to fling around? How about #TheSnotNoseScribe or #ScribeGate or even #FakerNews??

Anyhow, I’ll probably need to speak to Nora, get a GoFundMe happening, organize meetings, do a social media takeover… Who am I kidding? It’d be easier to stick his twill in his ear and be done with it.

Oh dear…

Doesn’t sound impressed, does she? Did you check out the proclamation last week? You can find all the bonus content for The Damsel Gauntlet on the episode page.

Haven’t caught up yet? The Damsel Gauntlet is available with all your favorite book retailers.

Buy Now

A Royal Proclamation

This royal proclamation is intended for those who have read The Damsel Gauntlet, because, well spoilers. Don’t mind? Scroll down to check out this short story.

Gretchen frowned as she passed the town square and headed toward the group of gawkers milling around. She guessed it was the latest in the series of missives authored by the Scribe of the Realm. After reading the last one, she thought she might have had a heart attack from all the laughing. Fearsome goblins, indeed.

A man in the king’s livery turned from nailing a poster to the wall, and cleared his throat to address the citizens. “A royal proclamation from the Scribe of the Realm, who details Prince Jacob’s exploits as he rescued his fair princess in the wild mountains beyond our borders.”

The crowd exclaimed and milled about to get a better vantage. The man took another poster from his satchel and held it up so he could read it out.

a royal proclamation

Gretchen ground her teeth at the cheers from her neighbors and bunched her fists in her skirts. Vile, eh? She’d show him vile. Her errands forgotten, she turned back toward her cottage and resolved to go see Nora. She could think up a few unpleasant hexes that would suit that little twerp.

Poor Gretchen

Confidentiality agreements can be rough! I hope you enjoyed A Royal Proclamation, a bonus short story for The Damsel Gauntlet. If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, check it out with your favorite book retailer here.

And don’t forget to check out the other bonus bits on The Damsel Gauntlet episode page here.

Mulligan in the Pantry… Again

Oh, Mulligan! I love these images from Rod Savely. An image holds a thousand words, or reflects just a couple in the opening chapter of ‘The Damsel Gauntlet’.

What does Gretchen even do with pickled livers, anyhow? Does she use them in her potions or is that the kinda thing she eats on toast? Mulligan doesn’t seem all that fussy for a feline, but perhaps that’s a witches familiar thing.

Mulligan is in the pickled livers again

And in case you missed it…

Gretchen stumbled into The Salt and Bog plucking leaves from her braid while mumbling under her breath. When she turned her attention to the crowd, her eyes widened at the regulars who’d turned to smirk at her.

“Broom problems?” Jurgen snickered from behind the bar as he poured ale from a barrel.

Gretchen clicked her teeth shut and cleared her throat. “Need to get that darn thing back to the shop. Can’t get good service these days. And I’ll hear no guff from you lot, or I swear I’ll curse your trousers to itch for months.”

The crowd broke out in laughter, only too aware of Gretchen’s lack of prowess in the curse department. She spotted Nora sitting at their usual table. Heaving a deep breath, she trod over and sank to the stool beside her.

“Tough day?” Nora had the decency to hide her smirk behind her hand, and Gretchen closed her eyes with a sigh.

“That alchemist stiffed me on most of the supplies I ordered, a customer changed her mind on the vermin poison, and Mulligan got into the pickled livers again.” She curled her lip. “Filthy feline has been farting all afternoon.”

Looking forward to sharing more of these with you next month

If you haven’t read this title, you can check it out with your favorite book retailer here. Not ready to splash any cash? Check out Episode 0.5 which you can get free for signing up to my newsletter here.

An Interview With Gretchen

So just days out from the launch of episode one, The Damsel Gauntlet, we’re bringing you an interview with the witch herself. As the star of the series, I’m sure you’re curious about Gretchen, and Mike Wallace, trusted first reader and writer of urban fantasy, asked her all the burning questions.

Hope you enjoy the insight, and are looking forward to launch day on May 5th!

When did you first start your career in witchcraft?

Us Murkwood’s are an old witchy family. My mother was a witch, her mother was a witch, my mother’s mother’s mother, well she was a goat herder. But I’m pretty sure that was only because her mother was a witch and a right battle-axe, too. So I suppose what I’m saying is I fell into witching rather than chose it.

Do witches date? What would a witch prefer in a husband? Or wife?

Well I mean, they do, but partners are probably more hassle than they’re worth. Can’t keep a husband in the academy if that’s your sorta thing, the council wouldn’t stand for it. But you know, it’s that age old quandary of caring for snot faced brats and whose work is more important. I guess the perfect partner would be one who could tolerate the smell of entrails in the morning. You never get a good reading out of them later in the day.

What kind of people are your best customers? Your worst?

The best are ones that don’t ask too many questions. I’ll let you surmise what that means for the worst.

What’s the difference between a witch and a wizard?

Is this guy serious? Wizards would have you believe that they work with a superior brand of magic, but in fact are almost useless at fixing things and are inclined to blow stuff up. You may as well ask what the difference is between men and women.

Is the cat your familiar? What does that mean?

Mulligan is my familiar, yes. Smarter creatures than most, they’re bound to their magical mate to look out for their wellbeing and let them know when danger is afoot. The trouble is deciphering those messages. Mulligan isn’t exactly the best communicator, and I’m not about to go hiding under my bed because he’s been acting weird. Cats are weird to begin with.

Have you ever faced a problem that magic couldn’t fix?

Pah, all the time. If I could solve all my problems with magic, I’d be sipping cocktails by the beach for the rest of my years. Seriously though, Magic is pretty much useless for cheating at cards.

Do you think magic provides a vital service to the people?

Unless you consider those quacks that call themselves physicians capable of curing anything more serious than a sniffle, yes. And that’s just healing. Imagine a world where you couldn’t order a hex on someone? That would be crazy.

What would you say is your most successful potion?

Depends how you define success. My best seller is cure-all for common respiratory afflictions. I’m pretty sure I could brew that in my sleep. But my most epic potion was that time I put together a little brew that covered our headmaster in purple spots. That thing went off almost exactly to plan. Do you know how hard it is to get the color purple right in a potion?

Why broomsticks?

No axles to snap, no wheels to get bogged in the mud, no nasty horse crap or broken equine legs to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer armchairs to broomsticks, but it’s part tradition and part having an enchantment strong enough to carry the weight.

Are there any stereotypes about witches you want to disprove?

You’re asking the wrong witch. Now Nora would get on her high horse, but I reckon a lot of those stereotypes have served us well over the years. I don’t even have to lock my front door when I go out. We might not be held in the highest esteem, but regular folks are at least a little wary of us. If it were any different, I’d have to go making excuses about why I couldn’t go to that stupid book club or why I missed the baby shower.

And there you have it!

Ten top questions from Mike, and as to be expected responses from Gretchen. Let me know in the comments if you have any more, and we can cover them over in future posts.

Have you picked up your copy of The Damsel Gauntlet yet?

Check out extra bonus content on the episode page. More to be added each week, either check back or sign up to the newsletter so you don’t miss a thing!

The Damsel Gauntlet – First Chapter

With less than two weeks before The Damsel Gauntlet launches on Amazon, I thought I’d share the first chapter for those who haven’t seen it. Of course, this came as a bonus chapter in episode 0.5, Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire, and if you haven’t checked that out, you can pick it up FREE when you sign up to the newsletter here.

gretchens misadventures episode 1 cover the damsel gauntlet

This witch needs more than a wicked sense of humor to be the hero in a quirky quest she never saw coming.

It was an ordinary afternoon at The Salt and Bog until the city guards turned up. While sipping ale among outcasts and misfits, Gretchen gets called on for an audience with the King… whether she wants one or not. Hauled back to the palace in secrecy, this ‘witch for hire’ gets an offer too good to refuse. But when she’s locked in a dungeon with bickering goblins and a smug dragon, the proposition looks shady. 

A damsel is in distress. A prince is on his way. All is not as it seems. 

Living from hand to mouth, Gretchen pushes aside her reservations to keep her eyes on the prize; the King’s coin. To earn it, will she be willing to take the dragon by the horns? When a ‘happily ever after’ is at stake, she must paint a heroic picture for those who are watching.

Because when this fairy tale goes down in the history books, the people behind the scenes fade into obscurity… which is exactly how Gretchen wants it.

Chapter One

Gretchen stumbled into The Salt and Bog plucking leaves from her braid while mumbling under her breath. When she turned her attention to the crowd, her eyes widened at the regulars who’d turned to smirk at her.

“Broom problems?” Jurgen snickered from behind the bar as he poured ale from a barrel.

Gretchen clicked her teeth shut and cleared her throat. “Need to get that darn thing back to the shop. Can’t get good service these days. And I’ll hear no guff from you lot, or I swear I’ll curse your trousers to itch for months.”

The crowd broke out in laughter, only too aware of Gretchen’s lack of prowess in the curse department. She spotted Nora sitting at their usual table. Heaving a deep breath, she trod over and sank to the stool beside her.

“Tough day?” Nora had the decency to hide her smirk behind her hand, and Gretchen closed her eyes with a sigh.

“That alchemist stiffed me on most of the supplies I ordered, a customer changed her mind on the vermin poison, and Mulligan got into the pickled livers again.” She curled her lip. “Filthy feline has been farting all afternoon.”

Nora let out an almighty cackle as Jurgen ambled over with a mug. Gretchen narrowed her eyes. “How’s the itch?”

Coming up with the right potion to treat a troll for eczema had been tedious. He reached for his neck, and Gretchen snatched her mug before he riddled it with whatever was crawling around under his plush fur.

“Better, but still a pain in my rear end.” He groaned as he scratched.

“Well, it might help some if you had a bath once in a while. The soap I made is part of the treatment.” Gretchen took a sip and arched her eyebrow.

“Doesn’t bother me that much.” Jurgen turned before Gretchen could reply.

“There’s just no appreciation, is there?” Nora waved her mug in the air. “Slaving away over a cauldron all day, and people can’t even follow simple directions.”

It was easy for her to say. At least she was on a retainer with a wealthy baron, which meant she spent most of her afternoons languishing away in a dump like the Salt and Bog. There were only so many hexes the Baron could dream up in one day.

“I’m not in a position to turn down paying customers. No matter how unappreciative.” Gretchen’s shoulders slumped, and she smacked her lips.

“This is what comes of free trade, you know? All of us undercutting each other and living in squalor because of it. If we could just organize…

Gretchen rubbed her forehead and zoned out. It usually took longer for Nora to get on her soapbox about that kind of thing, and once she started, there was no stopping her. Seeking distraction, she surveyed the room’s inhabitants.

The Salt and Bog was known as the hangout for society’s undesirables. The ones normal folks had a use for but wouldn’t be seen in public with. A ghostly crew was in their normal spot emphasizing their points with ethereal mugs, and a merry band of gnomes looked like they’d knocked off early from the mines. The pungent smell of ogres flavored the air, but they were mostly harmless unless they got into the brandy.

“…and that’s the point, really. Without us, they’d be lancing their own boils and—”

Gretchen frowned and followed Nora’s gaze to the door. A squad of guardsmen sauntered in looking down their noses. The guy with the feathers in his helmet puffed himself up and cleared his throat.

“We’re looking for the witch who calls herself Gretchen.”

Gretchen sat a little straighter as the crowd turned to her. Swallowing, she stood, her mug still in hand.

“Listen, if this is about that alchemist, I can assure you—”

“You are Gretchen, from the classified?”

Gretchen blinked. A guard handed a newspaper to the guy in front and he cleared his throat again.

“Services for hire, Gretchen the Witch. I can be anything you want me to be, your greatest desires—”

“Whoa there, buddy. Listen, I was having a hard month and bills need to be paid—”

“The King requires your services.”

The tavern went dead quiet and Gretchen’s cheeks burned red.

“Well, I mean, I’m a royalist as much as the next person. But truth be told, I’d had a few too many witches’ brews that night and got a little carried away…”

It was all too much for the patrons whose smothered snickers turned into giggles.

The guard sighed. “It is not a request. You can either come with us or we can cuff you and tie you to a horse.”

Gretchen glanced at Nora to implore for help but found her gawking with glazed eyes at the guys with spears.

“I see. Well, I hope he doesn’t expect a freebie.” Gretchen thumped her mug on the table and glared at the entranced audience as she followed the guards to the cobbled street. She wasn’t sure what was more humiliating. That her barfly buddies found out about that, or that the guards knew that the less-than-savory tavern was the best place to find her.

“Will you be flying?” The guard nodded to the broom rack where her sorry excuse for a vehicle still had a tree branch tangled around it. Gretchen considered taking Nora’s but decided against it. She’d never hear the end of it if she crash landed and broke something. It wasn’t like anyone would take her broom, the darn thing was a health hazard.

“I’ll roll with you fellas, if you don’t mind.” Gretchen straightened her hat and picked out another leaf.

The guard shrugged and mounted holding out a hand to help her up. Gretchen clambered on the beast who snorted at her clumsy horsemanship.

“So, the King, huh? Over at the palace, or maybe a quiet little hunting lodge in the mountains? They say the Queen can have a wicked temper—”

“The Queen insisted.” The guard frowned over his shoulder. “She said there’s no better way to be sure he’s worthy.”

Gretchen frowned and scratched her head. Whatever games the King and Queen played amongst themselves was none of her concern. If it meant a healthy dose of the King’s coin, she would leave her dignity at the door. It didn’t sound like the guard was up for a discussion on the merits of the situation, and she wasn’t about to ask him for pointers. She did her best to hold steady atop the beast and stared at the scenery passing by.

The cobbled road led steadily toward the city proper where buildings crowded around the stone wall of the palace. Her eyes drifted toward the mountains in the background, where the outlines of towers stood sentinel against the setting sun. With peace throughout the countryside, the amount of industry in the past few years was mind boggling. She preferred the peace and quiet of her ramshackle cottage nestled off the beaten track.

Gretchen snapped out of her reverie hours later when the guard gave her a sharp nudge with his elbow. They were in the castle courtyard, surrounded by the comings and goings of servants in livery, and Gretchen slid from the horse with barely a stumble.

“Through the servant’s entrance.” He thrust his chin toward a small door away from the main gate.

Gretchen tapped her nose and winked. “You can count on me to be discreet.”

The guard rolled his eyes and led his horse toward the stables. Gretchen hitched up her knitted hose and marched to the door, where a footman lingered on the step.

“The witch, I presume?” He eyed her askance.

“Gretchen at your service.” She proffered a hand, and he cleared his throat.

“Come along, best get you out of the way before the dinner service finishes.”

Gretchen followed him along narrow corridors and sidled past maids hauling sheets and buckets of water. The footman kept up a fast pace, and Gretchen kept her mouth shut. When he opened the next door, the hallway became wider with plush carpets underfoot. She gawked at paintings and rich textiles on the walls and bumped into her guide who’d stopped in front of a lacquered oak doorway.

“The King will come directly after his meal. This is his private reception quarters as I’m sure you’ll understand.” He waved her in and ushered her toward a pair of velvet sofas. “Now, I don’t have time to watch over you, but know this. We keep meticulous records of the valuables in the castle. If anything were to go missing, we know where to find you.”

Gretchen dropped onto the sofa with a sigh. “Gotcha. You’ll find the place just as you left it. More or less.”

The footman curled his lip before flouncing out and closing the door behind him. Gretchen wriggled further into the soft cushions and leaned her head back relishing the comfort after spending hours bouncing up and down on a horse’s rump. After a few minutes, her thoughts wandered.

Frowning, she stood to inspect the room looking for clues about the man who summoned her. Tapestries, which looked as old as the hills, dressed the walls, and the furniture, though opulent, was sparse. A small desk with writing implements stood by the window, and Gretchen rifled through the drawers to look for something insightful. Finding only blank paper, she sighed and crossed to the mantelpiece where knickknacks took pride of place, mostly delicate porcelain figures aside from a crudely carved soldier. As she picked it up, she caught sight of herself in the mirror hanging behind it and startled.

“Holy smokes. This is bad—even for me.”

Her pointed hat had taken a battering on her flight to The Salt and Bog and a few twigs still tangled in her braid. The ride to the castle left dirt smudged on her cheeks and creases marred her dress after hitching it up to sit astride the horse. She tossed the hat aside and untied the ribbon to re-braid her hair.

She had flipped her locks over her head and was shaking out the remaining debris when she heard the door open and a deep voice barking orders. Gretchen straightened and pushed her hair out of her face, dropping into an awkward curtsy as the King’s eyes fell on her. “Your majesty. What is your pleasure?”

Want more?

This episode is 99 cents while on pre-order so snatch up a copy before it launches on May 5th to get 50% off. You can find it with your favorite book retailer here.

For more bonus content head over to The Damsel Gauntlet page where you’ll find new content each week.

Spell Books in the Gretchenverse

Spell books in the world of Gretchen aren’t your regular tomes. With minds of their own, they can be difficult to deal with, and I thought I’d share some background on how they work. But if you haven’t read episode 0.5, I’ll share a short passage first to give you an idea of what Gretchen is up against.

From Chapter 1

The spell book stretched against its restraints, wobbling the rickety table, and dismissing Mulligan altogether. Gretchen leveled a finger with a stern look. “Trolls. I need something to get rid of trolls. No nonsense. No party tricks. Any more of those fireworks, and I’ll throw you in the hearth myself.”

The book settled and Gretchen gingerly untied its laces. With a hand firmly planted on its cover, she closed her eyes and drew a deep breath through her nose.

The book caught her off guard and snapped open, its pages whipping by and its contents spewing into the air. Random words hung suspended in front of her eyes, along with animated drawings which wriggled up the walls.

“Enough.” Gretchen thumped the desk, and the spells settled back in their volume. “Now. Troll eradication, if you will.”

Pages turned more slowly, the words on each page shifting too fast to form a coherent passage. When the pages slowed to a stop, it left Gretchen staring at a blank page.

“What do you call this?” She threw her hands up. “You finally conceding you don’t have all the answers?”

A stick figure walked onto the page and trod across the spine over the other side. It flipped her the bird before leaving her view entirely, and Gretchen scoffed. “All right then. Back in the hole it is.”

The book rattled, its pages once more in a flurry of activity, and Gretchen smirked despite herself. With a hum of concentration, the pages snapped closed, then sprang open to rest on a section with tightly scrawled instructions and lists of ingredients. “Now that’s more like it.” Gretchen rubbed her chin and narrowed her eyes.

I must say, her spell book sure does suit her.

But I do have some sympathy for Gretchen’s plight. See, not every book acts the way hers does, and it’s a matter of maintenance. But before we get onto that lets start with…

How to spell books work?

I like to think they share a lot of similarities with Siri. As enchanted objects, they hold knowledge given to them and respond to a witches request to recall information. While Gretchen asks her questions out aloud, this isn’t actually necessary, but Gretchen does have a penchant for talking to herself anyhow.

So does that mean only witches can read them?

Yes. They are created to respond only to female magic users, though some of the pricier ones can be specific to certain bloodlines.

Why the secrecy?

It’s actually a witches guild law, and those found breaking it can have their magic licences revoked. It’s not heavily policed, and most witches will jot down a list of ingredients before burning the note. But a regular book of spells is contraband so as to keep those without licences from practicing.

In fact, there was a case of a witch having her licence revoked where she kept a cache of spell books hidden. When she was found out, she was handed over to the regular courts where she was tried and convicted of unlawful sorcery and condemned to life in prison.

So how rare are spell books?

A brand new book is relatively cheap, but useless until it has been given spells to catalog. There are magical services that will assemble a spell ‘starter pack’, but these are pricier and the spells are fairly standard. Most spell books are handed down through the generations and the oldest are the most valuable as they hold more knowledge.

Is there any way to see what a book knows?

The only method of getting information out is to ask questions. And words are always up for interpretation. The library in the witches academy is the closest they’ve come to cataloging their collection, and even that can be hit and miss. An enchanted index lists themes of books, but cannot answer specific questions. Instead, they have witches with certain talents add their own knowledge to specific tomes to have some sense of order.

Seems a bit backward, doesn’t it?

Probably. But witches are a secretive bunch, and those in the guild hold up traditions. Before the guild was established, witches had more reason to keep their secrets close, and were often pitted against each other in wars between the kingdoms.

Are all spell books like Gretchen’s?

No. Hers is long overdue for a service. As an ‘artificial’ or ‘enchanted’ intelligence, they soak up more than just spells given to them. They learn from their custodians, and develop their own personality mash-ups over the years. Most of the servicing deals in smoothing over their response cues.

Why does Gretchen keep hers under the floor?

Gretchen’s book was handed down from her grandmother and has been in the Murkwood family for centuries. If it were stolen, she would be heartbroken. There are documented cases of spell book ransoming that have occurred over the years, and more than one story of a witch blackmailed into shady propositions to get hers back.

But another reason is so the tome doesn’t absorb too much from her daily life. Like as not, it would end up showing her shopping lists instead of ingredients when she next asked a question.

Wouldn’t it be safer to have more than one?

Yes, and Nora has several in her collection. But Gretchen was never one for study, and the thought of copying over spells from one book to another makes her feel ill.

Do they have any defense mechanisms?

Technically, no. But there is hot debate on the subject. A spell book will be reluctant to answer questions from an unfamiliar witch and may give them information that is… perhaps just a fraction inaccurate.

So there you go.

A potted history of spell books and all the nagging questions answered. Unless I’ve overlooked some. Comment with anything I’ve missed and I’ll add it to the post.

If you’re not a subscriber to the newsletter, and therefore haven’t scored your copy of episode 0.5, ‘Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire’, click here to get on board. Or for more bonus content, take a look at the episode 0.5 page here.