The serving of tea.

(Note: I came up with this one when I was at a coffee shop and was admiring a tea cup.)

The thick fragrance of herbs and tea leaves filled the cottage.

Pepper had at first hated the vile aroma, but slowly over the months the young girl began to get used to the boiled scented leaves and crushed medicinal herbs.

The old woman groaned as she sat in the moderate comfort of her warn chair, “Girl.” her voice filled with bitterness and authority.

Quickly but carefully, Pepper put down the fragile clay cup and slowly began to fill it with the brew she had personally made.

The old woman’s eyes did not miss an action. “And what is it today?”

Pepper tried to not show fear or eagerness. “I used apple seeds, ginger, some dile, and I mixed in some fox glove.”

Her grandmother closed her eyes and breathed in the aroma. The apple seeds were not usual tea ingredients and she could sense an imbalance in the brew, “Why fox glove?” she asked.

Pepper frowned, trying to think. “You said it’s used for bad hearts, and…”

“Did I say I had a bad heart?” The tone in the old woman’s voice warning that the answer might be rewarded with a flogging.

The tea cup in Pepper’s small hands chattered and the poor girl tried her best to stay calm, “B.but you said l.last night that your ticker. I’m sorry.” she bowed, not sure how she would fix this.

Her grandmother shook her head, “Never tell what is in the tea.” she said firmly. “Would you tell a person you put poison in there drink?”

Pepper became horrified with the thought. “N.no grandmother Thorn.”

Her grandmother sighed. “Remember girl. Herbs and leaves can do a number of things. They can heal a person both physically and mentally. It is true that fox glove can help the old pump. But it can also cause miscarriage in pregnant girls. A trained tea mistress like myself, can make man drop dead ten years to the day he touched the stuff.” She breathed in Pepper’s brew and identified where her young apprentice had gone wrong.

Her eyes dissect the girl trying to hold herself together. “We can also make a brew that would make a man ten times stronger, or have a clear mind.” She took a sip of the brew and winced, Pepper had the taste buds of a child. “It also doesn’t pay to tell your rivals your recipes or they might start getting ideas. You also might want to try masking the smell and taste. Make it dried apples, not apple seeds.”

Pepper nodded taking everything she could in. “Yes grandmother.” She poured herself the tea and agreed with her grandmother straight away. There was a strong acidic tang that some would find overwhelming.

The two sat in silence, mentally criticizing the brew.

Eventually Grandmother Thorn put down the cup and straightened herself. “Hide.” The simple whisper from the old woman triggered an immediate response.

With the speed of a startled rabbit, Pepper took her cup, put it in the wash tub, and then went down to the cellar. There were no other words, no need for commotion.

As the door to the cellar closed there was only silence for several long minutes.

The sound of the warn wooden door being knocked back did nothing to disturb the old woman as she sipped her granddaughter’s brew. However, the men in heavy armor not bothering to wipe their feet did strike a nerve. “May I help you gentlemen?” She asked polity enough for someone who had their door smashed in.

A young man wearing a golden cape entered. His face well shaven, his hand on his golden handled sword. “Sorry about the mess.” His voice did not show a sign of remorse for his men’s actions.

Grandmother Thorn merely glanced at the young man in the flashy vestments. “I hope your men don’t mind paying for that door.” the men that ripped apart her door let out a snort.

The young man ignored the old woman and observed his new surroundings. He can’t fathom why he had to come here personally and decided that some one would pay for it. “Are you Thorn? The tea witch?”

“I might be. Who is asking?”

The young man smiled in a charming manner, but the woman in the seat could tell a wolf lurked behind that calm exterior. “I think you know. Let me ask again. Are you, or are you not the tea witch?”

The old woman siped her apprentice’s brew and wished she had a chance to make her own. “Yes milord. I am the one you seek.”

The young lord smiled. How quickly these commoners show respect when they know who they are talking to. “I have come to have my fortune told.”

Grandmother Thorn took another sip of her brew. “I think milord, that if I had such a gift that I would be in better accommodations. I do not read the tea leaves, merely brew them.” In Grandmother Thorn’s opinion, tea reading was superstition. Created by women who drank too much of the bad stuff and hallucinated. There were of course brews that could open the mind to the possibility of the second sight, but they did things to the body that was best not to be described.

The young lord did not take offence, instead he simply nodded to his men and the guards began to ransack the place in a desperate struggle to find something amongst the assorted pots and drying tea leaves. “Could you perhaps sell me a spell? I heard you’re very good at that.”

A deep anger raged in the old woman’s heart but she kept a civil tongue. “I could, and I might.” The young man shudders as the old witch’s cold stare goes though him. “But would it be one you like?”

The young man collected himself, he was of course protected by his skill and his men. An old woman with rotten teeth and a withered body stood no chance against him on a bad day. But still, the eyes of the crone had dealt their blow and he became aware of the shadows and musk of the room. “So how does this work? I tell you what I want and you make a potion that would say… Make me stronger?”

The old woman’s silence only brought one of the young lord’s men to her side. “Speak or your tongue will be wagging on the floor old woman.”

Grandmother Thorn finished her tea. “That is correct milord. A simple collection of flowers and seeds can preform this. Would you and your men like a sip of this brew?”

The young lord was not fooled by this for a moment. He knew the witch would most likely poison him and all his men if given the chance. he examined the shelf for anything of interest. “I need something that could destroy an army. You came highly recommended.”

Grandmother Thorn stared down at the table. “And what is the name of this little birdy that told you this, if I may ask milord?”

“That. I’m afraid is my business.”

Grandmother Thorn rubbed the edge of the cup with her long chipped finger nail. “There are many potions that can do this. And many that come at a cost.”

The young lord took out a large purse full of gold and dropped it square on the table. “Tell me how to make it and give over all of the stock you have.”

If the gold did anything to the old witch she didn’t show it. “You want a berserker brute with no mind but one filled with death? You want a woman with poison on her breath and lips? Or do you want a warrior that dies a little each day but has the might of twelve.” The cation the guards expressed was not lost on the woman and the tea witch went in for the final strike. “Be careful milord. You don’t want an army who is dead before they reach the gates.”

Drinking a potion that can give you power but also death would be a sign of desperation but the young lord didn’t flinch. “I believe it is called. Dionysus kiss.”

The tea cup toppled away from the old woman’s grasp. “C.could repeat that milord?”

The young lord became pleased with the old woman’s new dread. “Dionysus kiss tea. It has this unusual aroma I am told. Breathing it in makes a man almost unstoppable. Though it can do some terrible things if drunken. If you believe my little bird it can turn you into a monster.”

The room became silent for a moment. Grandmother Thorn paid no mind to the gold or the young lord. Her mind was else where, some place distant. “You don’t want it boy.”

“Oh, but I do.” He leaned in closer hoping to intimidate the old woman. “Tell me how to make it and I’ll make you a very wealthy witch. You may even have enough to open a tea shop in the capital.”

Grandmother saw the slimy smile spread across her new client’s face. She stood which caused the men around her to draw their weapons. She knew that if she would refuse, the men would tear the knowledge from her. “I have the recipe and the ingredients. But know this. You will not like the results.”

“Dully noted.” The young lord bowed smelling victory. “I will also like a demonstration.” This caused Grandmother Thorn to hesitate.

She went into a warn out military chest where she stored the ingredients from places men were never to tread. Having collected what she needed she went to work. “I have only enough for ten cups. You only enough gold for five.”

The young lord stroked the hilt of his sword. “Oh. I will make sure you are handsomely rewarded.” The young lord could not afford to let his enemies learn of the potion and he contemplated if he should give the old woman a quick merciful death or a painful one, much like he did the little bird who told him about her.

Grandmother Thorn breathed in. “Of course you will milord, you are a respectable sort. I can tell.” Her hands began preparing the potion of monsters. “You do know of the origin of the maenads?”

The young lord sniffed at this. “Who?”

As she began to work the woman talked. “The maenads were from Greek mythology. Said to be a cult of women who would go in a frenzy. Slaughtering, mating, drinking. Typical things a cult do. They were powerful milord. Think beserkers but all females. A drunken rage where they become monsters.”

The young lord let out a laugh. “I doubt a woman is much of a threat.” He glanced to his guards and more laughter followed. “Though I have met some women who become like animals in bed.”

Grandmother Thorn poured the water into the mug and ignored the stupid laughter from the fools that dared to turn up on her doorstep. “Would you like that demonstration now milord?”

The young lord gestured for the old woman to proceed but had little hope that any of this fairy story crap was going to bear fruit. A shiver ran down his spine as he saw the old woman’s smile.

This shiver transformed into full out blown horror as he witnessed Grandmother Thorn swallow the contents of the cup.

***

Pepper opened the door to the cellar to witness the horror around her.

It was as if an pack of wolves and a bear had broken into the house. The furniture was smashed, the walls and floor was painted in gore and blood, and on the table there was a finely dress man laying on the table.

The man looked incredibly hansom, or at least had been once. But now his features were distorted in fright and it appeared as if an wild animal had tore his throat out.

The stench of death almost made young Pepper gag, “Grandmother.” she asked, unsure about the fate of her mistress and family member. She had heard screaming and fighting from the safety of her hiding spot. She knew something horrible had happened but couldn’t understand what.

“Over here darling.” Pepper saw her grandmother sitting in the exact place she had left her. Drinking tea and watching the door.

“What happened?”

Grandmother breathed in the aroma of the calming tea. “Oh. A young man came over for tea.”

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