Youth, Truancy, and Fireworks

Nora and Gretchen’s trip to the Witches’ Academy in A Royal Froggy Problem brought back a flood of memories for Gretchen’s time there as a student. This week, I thought I’d put together a story of truancy and fireworks from Gretchen’s youth. She was as much trouble then as she is now!

Youth, Truancy, and Fireworks

Gretchen scowled as she scrubbed the endless pile of plates brought down from the dining hall. It wasn’t her fault that old Chancellor Inglewood happened to walk past her table when she let off the fire cracker spell. 

If she thought keeping Gretchen in the kitchens would prevent her from giving the cook the slip to see the fire show, she was sadly mistaken. 

Aunt Esme would have seen the humor in it. Gretchen doubted that her aunt would give her much by way of reprimand when she went home at the end of the semester. She never did, much to her sister Cordelia’s disgust. 

Gretchen watched Cook from the corner of her eye as she dutifully scrubbed the remains of the thick stew that was the students usual fare from the mostly chipped crockery. The woman was formidable, and it wasn’t the first time Gretchen had fallen afoul of the stout guardian of the kitchen. That would make it harder to sneak out from under her upturned nose, but the risk was worth the reward.

The fire show only took place once a year, and at fifteen, Gretchen was now considered old enough to attend the ceremony which was largely officiated by the Wizard’s Guild. The royalty and all the nobles of the land would be up on stage, waving to the small folks who gathered in the market square. But Gretchen wasn’t interested in their pomp.

If she could get her hands on some proper fireworks, she was sure she could improve her pyrotechnic skills. It wasn’t a brand of sorcery that the Witches’ Academy encouraged and was dominated by snooty wizards favored by the gentry. But some nights Gretchen fancied spending the rest of her life on the road, perhaps with a traveling band of performers, and having a bag of tricks would be the right step in that direction.

“I don’t have all night,” Cook tittered. “Always the same with you youngsters. Arms like lead, as if they wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit them on the backside.” 

Gretchen ground her teeth, fighting the urge to make reference to the harridan’s own wide backside. If she would just take a sip of that darn tea by the fire…

“Nothing to say for yourself?” she clucked. “A first for everything I suppose.” 

Gretchen heard, rather than saw, Cook shuffle toward the fireplace where the only chair in the room sat. She smothered a smile and dropped another stack of plates in the sink. When she heard an undignified slurp, she counted to ten before risking a glance over her shoulder.

Already, Cook’s eyelids drooped, and if she noticed the young witch watching her, she didn’t give any sign of it. She knew she hadn’t gotten the brew quite right from the shade of yellow the woman was turning, but her breathing seemed easy enough. Gretchen grabbed a cloth to dry her hands while wearing a smug smile, then draped the wet, stained towel over Cook’s face before creeping into the hallway with a bucket of refuse under one arm. 

It was the oldest trick in the book, getting out through the doors which lead to the middens. In her first years at the Academy, she had read a discarded journal from centuries earlier of another student who’d used the same method for truancy. It was a wonder nothing had been done about it, although Gretchen thought the teachers rather enjoyed administering punishment.

Her feet were light on the more utilitarian floors, and she let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding when she rounded a corner and saw the back door clear of anyone who would interfere. Dropping the bucket by the door, she dusted off her hands and pushed the heavy door open with her shoulder. When she turned toward the street, she was nose to nose with Chancellor Inglewood.

“Not this time, Gretchen Murkwood.” Gretchen shuddered at the flinty tone in the Chancellor’s voice. “You think I didn’t expect some kind of trickery? Let’s see what state you left Cook in this time, so I can punish you accordingly.” 

Gretchen’s shoulders sagged, and she stepped aside to let Chancellor Inglewood past her. As the old woman’s heeled boots struck the timber floor of the hallway, Gretchen slammed the door closed and sprang away down the alley. She ran as fast as her feet would curry her, and despite the shriek coming from the alleyway, she was soon lost in a press of people on the street waiting for the night’s festivities. 

She knew she would pay dearly for her transgressions. But she would make sure the night was worth it.

I hope it was worth it!

I can’t quite decide if she got her goodies in the end, but I’ll leave that in your hands as the reader. If you haven’t read A Royal Froggy Problem, it is currently available on Amazon with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

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Or if you’re looking for more bonus content, head back to the episode page where I keep it all in one spot.

On Shaky Ground

Rod Savely has outdone himself again with this bonus illustration. And yes, this is our first glimpse at Gretchen’s best pal Nora! These two have become as thick as thieves as the series has progressed and their trip to the land of Sharen was certainly tenuous.

These witches find themselves on shaky ground in a society where witches are scorned and Nora is falsely accused of hexing their prince. Certainly a different tale of the frog prince, with more of a focus on whodunit in the end.

Did you know Gretchen has a certain allergy that plagues her during this story? Sneezing on his royal froggy highness doesn’t go down well!

On shaky ground

Have you read A Royal Froggy Problem yet?

To check out other bonus content for episode three, click here.

Categories: Ep 3

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.