Olga makes a surprise discovery underneath the floorboards of her cottage. It might be her salvation, or...
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A Family Recipe
Percival dodged a pillow that flew from the open door of the cottage. It hit the growing pile of miscellany on the porch and puffed up a fine cloud of dust motes in the morning sunbeams. The cat sniffed the air and retreated to a patch of amber leaves at a safe distance. He padded himself a bed before proceeding to clean the dust from his whiskers.
Inside, Olga sulked in the throes of cleaner’s remorse. The initial commitment she’d felt had diminished. She now wished she’d been less brutal in chucking half the cottage’s contents outside. It all needed wiping and bringing in, and there was no point doing that until she’d dusted the shelves, polished the workbench, swept the floor and worked out an improved system of categorising everything. It wasn’t yet mid-morning, but her spine already complained. Dust plugged her nose and her knuckle bones ached.
It was when she bent to sweep under the bed, that she noticed a loose floorboard.
Olga wasn’t fastidious over most things, but she didn’t fancy an icy winter draft blowing up through the floor, right under her bed. With a sigh, she pulled the bed from the wall to bang the board in place.
Fetching the fire poker from the hearth, Olga went to belt her frustrations into the loose floorboard when she noticed a corner of parchment peeking from the gap. She extracted the single sheet of yellowed and mildewy manuscript and ambled outside into the light.
Olga flattened the page out on the wall of the cottage, facing the morning sun. She didn’t recognise it as hers.
This must be my old aunt Nellie’s work. That means it’s been under there for at least thirty years! It looks it too. How curious, that she’d hide anything under the floor.
Through the creases and mildew, a few faint lines in the page’s centre were legible. Olga read them aloud, stirring Percy from his doze.
Into your pot, the first tears of a tot
Red pubes of fire, stir in for desire
Then toss in the tip of a right royal prick
A recipe for a potion. That much is clear. But what peculiar ingredients!
With a raised eyebrow, she stared closer at the page and determined a word in the title to be “Vigour”. She squinted. The word before it possibly began with a “Y”.
Realisation dawned on her.
“This is a fountain of youth potion!” she declared to the cat, who yawned and stretched his two front legs in response. “I might breathe life into this old body yet, Percy!”
With renewed energy, Olga scurried through her cleaning chores as briskly as she could. A cursory sweep of the floor, a dust of the shelves and a quick wipe of each item on the pile outside. Most went where they’d been before, albeit in a tidier fashion. Once the cottage was back to rights, Olga retrieved her magnifying glass to see what more it might reveal of the note.
Even under the glass, no more of the longhand script came out from hiding. The words surrounding those three principal ingredients were smaller, she could tell that much. So those middle lines were the crux of it.
If it followed the rules of most good recipes, it would also call for the usual base elements. The first rains of spring, infused with the likes of motherwort, elderberry and nettle. She had all those herbs and a wooden cask of rain from last spring— as every witch worth her salt should keep on hand.
Olga pushed herself up on her cane and looked south to the village nestled in the valley below.
I’ll make the base as best I can. It shouldn’t affect the properties of the special ingredients. Brewed in my lovely cauldron, with a good luck blessing, it might just work. But sourcing those unique items could prove a challenge.
Into your pot the first tears of a tot.
That doesn’t seem too difficult. In fact, Mrs Cranshaw in the village is due to drop any day now. I’ll wrangle my way into the birthing.
Red pubes of fire stir in for desire.
A little trickier. There’s red-headed Rosie who runs the tavern. I need to convince her to part with her pubes. Hmm…
Toss in the tip of right royal prick.
If that’s what I think it is, how on earth am I meant to get it? Sounds a very messy business.
Best start with the easier tasks.
The next evening, a haggard old witch ambled along the winding path and into town. Percy tagged along to the first corner as usual and then sat back on his haunches and sniffed the air.
Winter soon, his cat mind thought.