Taika's First Potion
“Oh come on! Please, please, please.” Anya frantically attempted to light a fire in one of the kitchen’s fireplaces. Normally an easy ritual, her hands tremored so badly she could barely hold onto a single match, let alone light it. She glanced over at Gevin who sat next to her, still frozen in an ice block slowly starting to perspire.
She threw another useless match on the stone. “Stupid, stupid fire!” Sniff! She wiped her tears away with the back of one hand while holding a new match with the other. Upon striking it, she chanced another glance at her blue friend. His face held the same look of astonishment it was first frozen in. Eyes wide, face slack, mouth slightly open.
“Please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead.” When the kindling finally took hold, she told him, “OK, I don’t know if you can hear me or not”—sniff—“but I’m going to try and find help.” She built up the fire and ensured its strength before leaving him alone.
She sprinted to Taika’s house, praying her friend wasn’t staying late in the library again tonight. BANG! BANG! BANG! Her fist urgently pounded the door. The sound of a chair scooted on the floor. Anya squinted into the shadows both ways down the street, grateful to find them empty. Footsteps come her way. She wrung her hands so hard her fingers hurt. When the door finally opened, she gasped, “Mr. Wolf, I need Taika please.”
Taika came to the door. She was already out of her work robes and chewing her supper. “Taika!” Anya spoke as quietly as she could, “Gevin has been bewitched! He’s frozen and can’t move!” She choked on her next words. “I’m not even sure if he’s alive or not!”
Taika quickly stepped outside and shut the door behind her. “What happened?”
Anya briefly told what happened at the witch’s house.
Unfazed with the thought of a real live witch and her evil monkey living nearby and changing people into ice sculptures, Taika said, “Wait here.”
She returned after a brief moment inside. “Let’s go.”
Anya followed her in a dead sprint. She asked between pants, “Where’re we going?”
“The healers,” Taika panted back.
They rounded the corner, left onto the main street, right at the main gate. Anya asked, “Isn’t this beyond their abilities?”
They stopped in front of a short, fat tower embedded in the front wall. Taika said, “Trust me,” then reached up to politely knock on the door. Tap. Tap. She was always courteous, even in an emergency. Anya thought she was going to explode if something didn’t happen soon. The door clanked and opened to reveal an Apprentice in his late teens. He had short, unkempt brown hair, bad acne, crooked teeth, and putrid breath. He did not appear pleased to be interrupted during his evening meal either.
He placed one arm on the door and another on the frame as he curtly asked, “Yes?”
“I am so sorry to bother you, Brandon. Is there any way we can borrow one of your healing books? I would greatly appreciate it.”
His eyes drifted over to Anya. “Which one?”
Taika answered, “I don’t know offhand. May we please look through them?”
Anya held her arms behind her back, trying not to look overexcited. He glared at her like she was an invading force, a disease.
Taika said, “I promise we won’t be long.”
His gaze shifted back to Taika.
“It is rather important, or we would not be here at this hour, I assure you.” He thought a moment, sucking his dinner from his teeth, and then turned with a sigh, dropping his arm and letting them in.
It appeared as if they were halfway through their meal already. The supervising healer was sitting at the wooden table. He had a bald head and short, grey stubble on his olive face. He wore his house clothes, his healer’s robes already hung on the wall. Taika nodded at the older man. “Mr. Redmun, I am sorry for intruding.”
Anya nodded her head in greeting. He waved them on, completely disinterested. She followed Taika to the back of the main room. Taika began scanning the healers’ library. Anya whispered, “What are we looking for?”
Taika whispered back, “When I was younger, I had a pox. My fever became so threatening that I had to stay here until it was safe again. When it did break, it was the middle of the night, and the healers had fallen asleep. With nothing else to do, I browsed their library. When the healers found me the next morning, I was surrounded by several piles of their precious scrolls and books. It did not end well.
“Fortunately though, I think it’s about to pay off. If we’re going to fight magic, we have to have magic. And if my memory is correct, and it’s always correct, then the healers’ books contain some magical potions in them.”
“So you knew about magical potions back then?”
“Oh goodness no! I only realized that’s what they were after studying the wizards’ journal. And now, I know what to look for.” She carefully removed a crumbling parchment. “Obviously, any book that contains such a potion will have to be ancient.”
“Oh.” Anya raised her eyes, impressed. “So, why didn’t the ancient wizards destroy those along with all the other magical books in the queendom?”
“I don’t know. That’s a very interesting question. Maybe they knew we would need them? Maybe they thought that since they were healing potions they couldn’t be used to hurt us? We may never know why, but it’s a good thing they didn’t.”
Two threadbare books and three dilapidated scrolls later, “I’ve found it! Most of the ingredients should be in the kitchen already. But the lily water, stinging nettle, and willow bark, we’ll have to find elsewhere.”
“We don’t have time for that.”
“I know.” Taika held her head high, sucked in a deep breath, and turned to ask, “Mr. Redmun, sir. May I please borrow some lily water, stinging nettle, and willow bark?”
He put down his fork and stared at her curiously. Her smile appeared forced and nervous. “It’s for my cat, sir. I know you don’t do pets, but I thought if I did it, it would be OK.”
He stood from his supper. “Dear child, if it were to get out we were taking on pets now…”
Taika violently shook her head, sending ripples down her loose hair. “Oh no sir! I would never tell anyone you did it. You are far too important for such a beast as a cat.”
Anya cocked her eyebrow. Seriously?
“That may be, but coming in here at all hours to help themselves. What if others were to start doing the same? What of my ingredients? Who will replace those?”
Anya knew the healers worked for the Queen’s money when treating royal servants, such as what Taika was now. However, if someone who didn’t work for the Queen got sick, such as the rest of Taika’s family, they had to pay with their own money. In advance. And the healers would never demean themselves by aiding an animal, even when the Weapons Maker offered them one thousand quints to save his pet hamster, Abigail, from a severely stubbed toe. They would use its parts, but never help it.
But as ridiculous and prideful as the healers were, Anya and Taika needed their help right now, and thankfully, Taika knew what to do to get it. “I assure you, great healer, that no one will know we were here. I will return the scroll in the morning, along with the ingredients. Is there anything we can do to repay you for this kindness?”
Mr. Redmun scratched his stubble, pressed his bottom lip up, rubbed his bald head and then scratched the back of it. “Weeellll, I do need some more red hornet fungus.”
Anya whispered through the corner of her mouth, “What is that?”
Taika muttered back, “You don’t want to know.” She then responded to Mr. Redmun, “That will take longer than tonight to get for you, sir. May I have some time to retrieve it?”
Mr. Redmun rubbed his hands together and almost cackled, “Oh sure, sure. Take all the time you need, young lady.” He then went to fetch her requested ingredients.
Brandon, who had returned to eating at the table, crossed his arms and laughed silently at his master’s scheming. Then he peered up at the girls as though they were idiots. They humbly accepted the items, thanking them as they left.
As soon as the healers’ door shut, Anya and Taika dashed across the courtyard. Anya quickly passed Taika, puffing as she went by, “I hope he’s still there. What if he’s been discovered?!”
Upon entering the kitchen, Anya threw herself next to Gevin and made sure the fire was still blazing. “He’s melted down to his neck.”
“That’s good. It will make delivering the potion easier.” Taika opened the scroll out on the table and held it down with heavy jars. She quickly placed a cutting board, knife, and pestle near it and the healers’ bottled ingredients. “I just need some chili peppers, hot coffee, and horseradish.”
Anya promptly went about making the coffee and gathering the other ingredients.
“There is one problem though. I’m supposed to heat it in the flame of a lava lizard.”
“A lava lizard. It’s … a magical creature.” Taika winced with unease. “Hopefully a regular flame will work. Can you get me a small pot for the fire? We won’t need much.”
Anya got the smallest cauldron in the kitchen from between the two fireplaces where they were stored. Although the smallest, it was still big enough to hold an overgrown watermelon and took both of them to raise it high enough to clear the fire. They hung it from one of the many different spits and pushed it over the flames.
Taika followed the directions with precision. First the hot coffee, then the lily water. She stirred one way, then another. Took it off the fire, blew on it, added the willow bark, stirred it again. This continued until Gevin had melted down to his elbows. Anya kept herself busy grinding, cutting, and cleaning.
Once the potion had turned a clear green, Taika said, “It says that some of the ice of the victim will increase the potency of the potion. Maybe that will help make up for not having a lava lizard handy.”
Anya grabbed a meat mallet and used it to beat chunks of ice off of his outer edges. She hoped it didn’t vibrate him too much and kept apologizing. However, it did make her feel a bit silly. Once she had whacked off enough to make a small pile of ice chips, she asked, “Is this enough?”
Taika glanced over. “It should be.”
When they added it to the cauldron, an intense smoke formed, filling their eyes with fat tears. After it cleared, Taika went back to stirring the pot while Anya read from the scroll, “Now boil until a bright red color is obtained.”
“Ooo! It’s turning bright now!”
“And cautiously add the gunpowder a few grains at a time.” Anya backed away from the fireplace after she read that piece of instruction. When it didn’t explode, she went back and knelt by Gevin. He had melted down to his legs by now, but his body was still frozen in the same position. Seeing him like this made her breath catch in her throat, disallowing her from making it go in or out properly. All the while Taika was acting like her award-winning fudge was ready.
They removed the cauldron from the heat and ladled some into a mug. “Now, somehow, we have to get this down him.” Luckily his mouth was partly open. They spilled quite a bit, but were able to get a small portion in his mouth and down his throat.
They had practically emptied the pot and were starting to get rather worried when,Gasp! He blinked!
“Oh thank Heavens!” Anya sobbed while Taika drained the last drops of the potion into the mug and made Gevin drink it.
She held it up to his shaking mouth. “Here. This will warm you up.”
Anya explained, “That evil witch froze you with a spell! Our Taika here revived you with a magical potion!”
Gevin looked at both of them with alarm. “T-t-t-thanks? H-h-h-ow l-l-long before I s-s-s-stop ch-ch-ch-ch-chattering?”
Taika answered, “I don’t know. Most of the magical information has been destroyed. You may never stop chattering, unfortunately. I was supposed to use the flame of a magical creature called a lava lizard, but obviously, we don’t have those anymore.”
His behavior worried Anya. “This isn’t a normal stutter, Taika. People are going to notice.”
Gevin’s eyes grew angry, and his jaw set. “I w-want to g-g-go b-b-back.”
“Gevin, you can’t even talk right now.”
He glared at Anya. “I kn-kn-kn-know how to use an axe. I’ll ch-ch-chop her head off.”
She turned to Taika. “Look. Gevin’s and my parents are bound to be worried. Let’s get him home and think about this later.”
“Wh-what h-h-happened to the h-h-horses?”
“Don’t worry, Gev. I’ll go put up the horses right now.” She turned back to Taika. “Can you make sure it looks like we were never here, please? I don’t even want to think about what would happen if anyone found out about this.”
“Of course.” Taika nodded.
“Oh, and Taika.” Anya suddenly remembered that conversation she was supposed to have with Taika but never did. “You know this is a secret, right?”
Taika cocked her eyebrow inquisitively.
“It’s just that the other night at my house playing cards…”
Taika’s expression didn’t change at first, but then it slowly grew into one of recognition. “Ooooh. You mean when I asked your mother if she believes in magic?”
“Yes, Taika. When you asked my mother if she believes in magic.”
“But I wasn’t going to tell her what we found. I was just asking her ‘what if’?”
Seriously? Could she not see the problem here? “OK, Taika, but no ‘what if-ing’ on this one ... OK?”
Taika sucked in her upper lip and nodded. “You’re right. We should keep quiet about it.”
Whew! Thank goodness!
Anya found Marigold nibbling on some of the Queen’s flowers and led her to the stables where Claribell was munching some spilled feed grain. Anya took them to their stalls, which were thankfully labeled, and fumbled with the tack. “Oof! How do you carry all this?” she asked Marigold when the saddle slid off, almost knocking her over.
She found the tack room, and placed the items on their labeled posts, following the other posts for examples. After securing their stalls, she told the mares, “I’m sure I’m supposed to wash you or feed you or something. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do. Gevin’s in trouble, but he’s going to be alright. He’ll be back tomorrow. You’ll be OK.” She waved to the disinterested horses and mumbled, “I hope,” as she left.
“I’m sorry Ms. Lancaster. Gevin took me for a ride and his horse threw him in the pond. By the time we got back, he was absolutely freezing. I tried to warm him up with some hot tea, but—”
“It’s OK, Anya, but you better get home. Your mother is worried sick! She’s been over here twice already tonight.”
“Yes, Ms. Lancaster.”
They turned to see Ms. Walberg in her doorway. Her hands were on her hips, and her eyes looked like they wanted to rip Anya into itty bitty pieces.
“Oh Anya!” She ran to her daughter and pulled her into a tight embrace.
Anya managed to pull her face away enough to breathe. One of her squished eyes saw a slanted Taika wave and leave for home. She gently raised her arms up and around her mother, patting her on the back.
Her mother pulled away. “Where have you been?! Don’t you know better than to go off like that and not let anyone know about it?”
“Yes, Mom. I’m sorry. Gevin fell in the lake and—”
“You can tell me inside. Let’s go.”
She slumped as her mother led her into their home. She just couldn’t win.
“Hey, Sis. I’m glad you finally made it here. I was running out of ways to calm Mom down.” Terrence sat on his bed, eating for a change.
Anya smiled feebly and sat down.
Her mother handed her a bowl of hot soup and a spoon, but food is often far less delectable when served with a furious scowl. Arms crossed and foot tapping, her mother glowered down at her and demanded, “Well?”
Anya swallowed. “Gevin took me for a ride. I planned on being home before too long, but he fell in a lake. By the time I got the horses put up and him warmed up, it got late. I’m sorry.”
Her mother’s eyes bored into her brain as though she could see a tiny sign in there flashing, “Lie” or “Truth”. After a short eon, she dropped her arms and said, “OK. But this better not happen again!”Anya shook her head vigorously. “No, ma’am.” Whew!
The next morning, Anya cleaned up after breakfast and went to the stables to check on Gevin. He was still a slight tint of blue, and continued to stutter ferociously. “Hey, Gev! How are you today?”
“Th-th-thanks for last n-night, Ahnny.” He moved perceptibly slower, too.
“Are you OK?”
“Y-y-yeah, j-just a l-little tired.”
“I didn’t know what to do about Marigold and Claribell last night, so I just put up their stuff and shut them in their stalls. Is that OK?”
“I came here er-er-early and w-washed them down. They sh-should be OK. I’m j-just really tired and b-b-behind today.”
“Tell ya what. I’ll stay here and help out, OK?”
Gevin smiled instead of answering. Probably sick of chattering, thought Anya. Not that she blamed him. She’d be sick of it too if it were her doing it.
Anya worked at the stables until lunch, getting him more than caught up. She learned how to clean tack, what each piece was, and why it was all used. She cleaned out a few of the stalls and fed some of the horses.
When lunch came, they went to the courtyard where she offered to buy him lunch. They found a stall selling fry breads and meat cakes where she bought them two fry breads with boiled cabbage. They walked about the main area to eat and people watch.
That’s when they heard someone screaming for them. “Gevin! Anya!” As whoever it was got closer, they could tell it was Taika. Her Librarian’s robe flailed behind her as she made a beeline across the courtyard.
“What’s wrong?” Anya tried to calm her friend down. They had already attracted far more attention than she was comfortable with.
“I know where to find a lava lizard!”
“Shhh!” Anya pulled her into a shadowed corner of the castle. Gevin scanned the area for eavesdroppers and followed.
Taika caught her breath. “We need to go to Mount Hotnose.”
“Where?” asked Anya.
“Mount Hotnose. Come on, I’ll show you.” She dragged them past the immediate tents and carts and pointed at a mountain off into the southwestern distance. “See the big one on the left?”
“But that’s days from here! There’s no way we can go that far for something!”
Taika waved the notion away with her hands. “We don’t have to go that far. The lava lizards live at the bottom of the range, in the pits of Catchahottoe”
“Catchahottoe?” Anya asked incredulously.
“I didn’t name them. I only read about them.”
“But that’s still over a day away. We’ll never make it there and back in time.”
“Wait,” Gevin spoke up. “I c-c-can borrow a c-c-couple of horses. That may m-make it faster, b-b-but it would have to be on a n-normal work day. Horses aren’t allowed t-t-to be worked on r-rest days.”
Taika impatiently waited for him to finish before saying, “I was hoping you would say something like that. I can borrow one of my dad’s hunting tents. In fact, he would probably be thrilled to go out there with us and hunt while we visit the lava lizards.”
Anya was still skeptical.
“P-P-P-Please Ahnny. I d-d-don’t want to st-st-stay l-l-like this. Even th-the horses are l-l-l-laughing at m-me.”
“You all are serious. How am I going to explain this to my mom? I know Otis won’t know the difference, but Gevin can’t just leave work, he—”
“Actually, I c-c-can.”
Her brows took off as she stared at him in disbelief. Taika rotated in a circle, mumbling to herself and using her fingers as a calculator. She didn’t seem to hear anything else being said, let alone care.
“M-m-matthew owes m-m-m-m-m-m-”
Anya held up her hand to stop him. “OK, Gevin. I believe you. Just … stop talking.”
His head and face drooped with sadness.
She tried to appear sympathetic. “Please?”
He pulled his mouth back, raised his eyebrows, and nodded in surrender.