Ed. Note: No-Color Little-Highthing is Newt’s Preserver name, Happy-Shiny Highthing was Cider's Preserver name, and Color-Much Highthing was Strand’s Preserver name.
Newt’s translucent eyes followed the motion of the honey spoon Cider slowly twirled over the bubbling pot of dreamberry brew. With a watering mouth he watched how the long sticky line of golden sweetness flowed and melted into the purple liquid.
Once Cider was done, she smiled brightly at Newt’s desirous look and handed him the spoon after she’d made sure she wouldn’t have to add more. Eagerly Newt took it and licked the rest of the sweet honey off of it. He wasn’t sure but somehow the honey in this time of the year always tasted different from what Beesting gathered during the New Leaf season.
“What is the honey for in the dreamberry juice?” Newt asked, licking the last bits of stickiness from his fingers.
“Is good good beesweets!” Muckabout chattered happily, having taken a turn helping clean Newt’s fingers.
Cider gave Newt a short look without stopping to stir the content of the pot in front of her. “It’s to make the brew taste better,” she explained. “You see, not all the brews I make turn out the same. Some can stand on their own and some need a little help to be special. This one turned out very sour and some sweetness could help with it.”
Newt smiled at that. He couldn’t think of anything that honey wouldn’t help taste better, and said as much to the brewer. She smiled in response. “And yet this is not all that will go into this batch,” Cider declared with the air of joyful importance Newt only ever witnessed in his favorite cubsitter — his brothers excluded.
“What else will you add?” Newt asked, scrambling closer to the pot but not near enough that he could be burned by the heat of the cooking fire — mostly because Muckabout had gripped onto his hood. Not that the weight or the pull of the bug could have stopped him if he really would have pushed, but Newt understood the well-meant warning his friend gave him.
Once the Preserver had made sure the cub wouldn’t go closer, it fluttered up to sit on Cider’s shoulder to look at the brewing juice with curious eyes. Newt could guess that the rich color drew its attention.
Cider must have known so as well and she gave Muckabout a short look of warning, before she answered.
“I thought about wormgrass leaves,” she said and nodded toward a bundle of said herbs lying on top of the cutting table in her working den. A good hand-sized bowl of the wormgrass had already been crushed and added a pleasing, fresh note to the dazzling odour of cooking dreamberry wine. Newt had not paid much attention to the bowl until now. He’d just assumed the brewer needed it for something else.
He frowned in confusion. “Wormgrass leaves?” he asked. Sunlight sometimes made a mint tea for him with wormgrass, especially when his stomach ached.
“Yes,” Cider nodded, methodically stirring the brew. “To add some twist to it — the cool, minty flavor will provide a fresh sharp note that will wake up the tongue and mind.” She looked over her shoulder, seeing the doubt on Newt’s face and smiled, but didn’t get the chance to answer Newt. A look of distraction crossed her face and Newt could sense someone was sending to her. He watched as she scowled, then laughed, and began to stand up.
“I have to step out, little one,” she said kindly. “I won’t be long — I have to take care of something. Could you stir the brew again in a moment?”
Newt’s eyes widened, and he nodded. He felt important — she trusted him, a cub, to help her with her craft and was leaving him alone to do it!
“Good. I’ll be right back.” He watched as Cider reached up to a shelf to pull down a skin of wine. Then she stepped out, and he heard her call in a singsongy voice, “Oh, Snaptwig...”
At that moment, Muckabout, who had left the brewer’s shoulder when she’d gotten up, fluttered around his head and said, “No-Color Little Highthing, swirl beesweet juice-stuff, just like Happy-Shiny Highthing say-so.”
Newt laughed at that, and began to stir the pot. Muckabout landed on his shoulder, watching his hand closely. The cub was thrilled to watch the juices swirling because of his own efforts. He noted how the circles moved the same direction he stirred and how there was a tiny circle spinning downward at the center.
His observations were interrupted by a shrill voice. “Happy-Shiny Highthing swirls beesweet juice-stuff slower,” it chirped and Newt slowed down his movement.
“Like that?” he asked, and Muckabout nodded eagerly.
“Yes, yes. Smart No-Color Little-Highthing. Always do what Muckabout say-so,” the bug praised and patted Newt’s head with a tiny hand.
After a while of stirring, conscientiously watched by Muckabout, Newt started to wonder what was taking Cider so long. He could hear her voice and what sounded like Snapwtwig’s outside the den somewhere but the sound was too muffled for Newt to make out a word they said.
The cub directed his gaze back to the pot. It was almost hypnotic to watch the brew twirl and the smell of dreamberry mixed with sweet honey made his mouth water.
“What do you think it tastes like?” he asked his Preserver friend.
Muckabout tilted its head to the side. “Tastes sweet and fruity,” it answered.
New bit down on his lip. He knew his mother and fathers didn’t like the thought of him drinking dreamberry wine yet, but he was curious about the taste. With the most innocent eyes he looked up to Muckabout.
“One little sip can’t hurt, don’t you think?” he asked.
Muckabout flapped in midair, putting its long fingers to its own lips, thinking hard. “Color-Much Highthing said No-Color Little-Highthing is too small to drink tasty berry-juice,” it reminded Newt.
“Just a little sip?” Newt asked, then thought about it a moment longer. “I'll share with you.”
That was enough to convince the bug. It nodded and Newt took the small bowl Cider had used earlier. He carefully dipped it in and caught some of the deep purple juice in it. It was steaming, so Muckabout flew on Newt’s side and blew over it to cool the hot liquid a little.
Newt waited until Muckabout nodded meaningfully and then brought the small bowl to his lips. As he had promised, he only took a sip. The fruity taste, along with a hint of sweet flavor rolled over his tongue and his eyes and cheeks stated to glow. The taste was followed by warmth that filled his mouth and flowed down to his stomach.
“That’s good!” he declared happily, and held the small bowl with the rest of the wine to Muckabout who slurped it away.
“Yes, yes, very good. Very good,” it cheered, but right away lifted a finger in front of Newt’s nose. “But is all No-Color Little-Highthing may drink. Color-Much Highthing say-so,” it reminded him.
Newt gave a nod, but couldn’t hide his disappointment fully. The warmth was still lingering on his tongue and in his belly.
Dutifully he went back to just stirring the brew; Cider still hadn’t arrived. The voices outside became louder and he thought he heard Snaptwig laugh while Cider groaned in frustration.
Newt’s focus started to slip and he began looking around the working den Cider used for her brewing. His eyes fell on the wormgrass she had cut into little pieces. He remembered what Cider had said earlier: “To add some twist to it — A fresh sharp note that will wake up the tongue and mind.”
Muckabout followed his gaze and remembered as well: “Happy-Shiny Highthing said adding spicy wormgrass to juicy.”
Newt nodded. “We can do that, right?” he asked.
“Yes, yes. Muckabout and No-Color Little-Highthing help!” it cheered and flew over to the cutting table, grabbed an armfull of hacked wormgrass and dropped it into the mix. The fresh odor of the herb bloomed in the hot liquid, and Newt smiled in delight. Mixing stuff was fun!
“You think that’s enough?” he asked. “There’s much more over there.” he said out loud and Muckabout nodded just as eagerly. It flew back and carried a full small bowl over to Newt who took it and emptied the whole bowl into the pot. He giggled together with the eager Preserver. The odor had changed and now and then he could see bigger chunks floating to the surface. It was an all new way to keep stirring interesting. He and Muckabout tried to keep as many of the big chunks down as they could. “Thieving trickster,” Cider muttered as she re-entered her den.
Newt looked up at her from where he had been working. The brewer’s face was red and her hair was dishevelled in the way that his mother’s sometimes was after she and his fathers had been playing together under the furs. Newt was confused by that — Cider had been outside of the working den the whole time. Hadn’t she?
“He tricked me, Newt,” Cider said with hint of the frustration of an elf being who had been taken in by someone. “And I let him. I owe him another skin of wine now. But it will have to be something special,” she said with a gleam in her eyes. Knowing his favourite cubsitter, Newt knew she was already plotting how she could get back at the older elf.
Absentmindedly, Cider reached for a cup and filled it with some of the brewing wine out of the pot. When she put it to her lips Newt watched with eager anticipation. His eyes hung on her lips when the first drops rolled over them.
Her reaction however was not what he’d expected. Cider froze, her eyes went wide and she cringed before she spat the wine into an empty bowl. Hastily she reached for a skin with clear water she kept close by to neutralize her taste buds and washed her mouth out.
“High Ones! That’s... awful!” she said after the worst was over. Newt made himself smaller when he started to realize what had gone wrong. “What by the...” She took the big spoon and stirred the brewing wine. “It’s full of wormgrass!”
Cider had to know, because her eyes flashed over to Newt, who tried to make himself even smaller. “I was really just trying to help, Cider,” he said in a small voice, looking down at the tips of his boots.
Muckabout fluttered and sat on Newt’s head. “Muckabout help No-Color Little-Highthing help Shiny-Happy Highthing also. Did good work!”
Newt had to smile a little at his friend’s defence of him, but he also knew that somehow he had messed up. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
He sensed her movement, then felt her finger touch under his chin to lift his face to where their eyes would meet. “Cubling, I know you were only trying to help. And this time, I think you did.”
There was a cheeky smile on her lips and the mischievous glint in her eyes spoke volumes about her thoughts. Newt was confused. Hadn’t she just spat out the brew?
She answered the look on his face with a roguish giggle. “Some brews are meant for special things — like this one. I’m going to add a little more apple, and probably some more honey... but with the amount of wormgrass you and Muckabout added... it’s going to be the perfect wine to pay back my debt to Snaptwig.”
“Ohh!” Newt replied, eyes big and mouth round.
Muckabout on his head started to jump from one foot to the other and clapped its hands gleefully. “No-Color Little-Highthing and Muckabout are helping Happy-Shiny Highthing to play prank!” it cheered.
“Right you are, little bug. This will teach him to pull a fast one on me!” Cider laughed and grabbed some apples from the shelf behind her.
Newt giggled along at the thought, then grew more serious. “He won’t be hurt, right?”
“No, sweet one,” she said while handing him an apple to peel. “He’ll just have a few extra trips to the trees, that’s all. And don’t worry, I’ll take full responsibility for it,” she added with a playful wink.
Newt took the apple from her and beamed. This was why he loved Cider as a cubsitter. You never knew what would happen with her around.