Despite this being an enormous city, bustling with all kinds of folks, Zenia regularly found herself alone walking through the streets. When the kids were off to school, she took her morning walk enjoying the first warm sunrays, usually taking detours but always arriving at the same spot: Jeanne‘s Witcheria.
When she first opened her store, we really weren’t convinced by the name but I guess the store really features whatever you’d need from a witch. Mainly the witch herself, Jeanne. She was an old (literally, she’s a few centuries old) friend of mine and Zenia. We’ve fought together in the war and stayed close friends since.
To answer the question of what exactly a “Witcheria“ is, it’s Jeanne’s very own store for every service she can provide, and every product she takes pleasure in creating. Of course, that includes potions and herbal medicine, but herbs can also be used for making tea. So, her store doubles as a cute little cafe, where Zenia likes to spend her days off. After all, what’s better than drinking some tea and enjoying the company of your best friends while doing some painting on the side?
Well, I could think of a few things but this is about my wife after all.
If I ever happen to get a day off maybe I should join her for once.
After being out and about for some time she reached the Witcheria and pushed the door open. It was still rather early in the morning. Unless you had children and were jobless (like Zenia) you’d never go to a cafe at this hour. Needless to say, the main area was mostly empty, safe for two guests sitting at separate tables and one person at the counter who seemed to be buying some medicine.
Zenia took her usual place in the back corner near the counter. She sat at a squared table, her back to the wall. She didn’t like having her back exposed to the entire room. This way she had everything happening in the cafe within her field of view. Also, she was close to the counter which allowed her for some casual conversation with Jeanne, who’d be brewing potions or tea.
Jeanne was standing behind the counter, finishing up her customer’s order, before turning to greet Zenia. Her big hat swayed around a bit, and it was somewhat of a marvel it didn’t fall off her head. Zenia eagerly awaited that day ...
“Hey there, darling,” Jeanne’s deep, yet cheerful, voice greeted Zenia. “What can I get for you?”
“I have made a resolution!” Zenia announced.
Jeanne responded with a blank stare, and waited for Zenia to elaborate.
“I will try the entire menu from start to finish.”
Jeanne fished the menu out of thin air and gave it a brief glance.
“Hmm,” she pondered. “I don’t actually think we have ever sold every single item on the menu.”
“Shouldn’t you... cut down a bit from the menu then?” Zenia questioned. “I mean, I have no experience working a cafe, but don’t you have a stock of unnecessary ingredients then?”
“Not really, most of the herbs used for my teas can also be used for potions. Or just sold separately.”
Indeed, Jeanne had an entire shelf with herbs gathered in preserving jars behind her counter.
“Anyway, could I get the menu, please?” Zenia stretched out her hand as she politely asked for the menu.
“There you go...”
“So, the first thing would be ... Black Tea.” Zenia was a bit disappointed, as it was probably the most common brew in the entire kingdom. It wasn’t an herbal tea though, like in my world, instead it was made from a dark kind of berry common to this area, which, when squeezed released a very thick, almost syrup like, juice. It had a nice sweet and sour taste, that people from other regions (or other worlds) needed to get used to at first.
(Why am I explaining this, like I’d explain it to an otherworldler? As far as I know I am the only one of my kind ...)
“A cup of Black Tea coming right up!” Jeanne exclaimed, turning on a heel and taking the menu with her.
Zenia put her tote bag onto her lap and produced a few sheets and a pencil from it.
Barely another minute later her tea had arrived. Magic was frequently used to heat things up, so service in most restaurants and the like was fairly quick. Though there are some purists who believe food and beverages heated up by magic don’t have such a refined taste as using actual fire. I guess it’s similar to microwave food, now that I think of it.
Jeanne placed the steaming cup of tea in the middle of the table, in front of Zenia’s sheets. A thick mist came from the cup, almost as if someone had put a smoke machine inside it. It gave off a witchy flair. That was Jeanne’s special way of brewing tea. If the internet existed in this world no doubt would this be an Instagram hotspot.
“There you go,” Jeanne whispered, as she carefully put the cup down.
Zenia immediately went for her pencil and put the first couple of strokes down. She always used her beverage or food for a quick warm up sketch.
Jeanne was hesitant to interrupt Zenia, as she knew you shouldn’t disturb an artist at work, but after some quick consideration she went for it anyway.
“Say, I’ve been thinking. What do you do with your sketches?”
“I mostly stow them away somewhere at home. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about putting a bit more... effort into decorating this cafe.”
Jeanne already put plenty of effort into her cafe. Mostly shelves with jars of herbs, similar to the one behind the counter. There were also potted herbs, that she grew herself, as well as some flowers and vines, that stretched across the walls. It felt like a greenhouse sometimes. Bright and full of (plant)life. There was not a single spot she didn’t tend to. Even if you were the only guest, the room didn’t feel empty at all.
“Oh? What have you been thinking?”
“Well, without beating around the bush, I’ve been thinking about putting up some of your paintings up in my cafe!”
“Well, I’d be honored!” Zenia replied with a smile. “Although... I don’t know, I’m not sure I am good enough.” Zenia looked back down at the rough outline of the cup on her sheet.
“Pah, nonsense. You’ve been here almost every day for the past few months painting. Actually, you should ask me to put up some of your stuff around here,” Jeanne retorted with a mischievous grin. “I’m just joking. I would of course actually buy them off of you, what do you say?”
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly ask that of a friend.”
“Pah, friend or not, your effort can’t go without any return. Actually, for us witches it is almost unthinkable not to pay for any piece of art made. Unlike with you humans ...”
It was true, that most human artists barely made anything from their craft, even in this world.
“Well, think about it,” Jeanne said, after Zenia had stared at her sketch papers for a few seconds, deep in thought. “In the meantime, how about you enjoy that tea?”
With that, Zenia went back to her sketching. It was just a warm-up sketch, so it took her no more than a quarter of an hour. Of course, she wouldn’t just sketch the same boring beverages every day. I’ve snuck into her study once and peeked at her drawings. Some were of people, some of the plants, and some of the odd stray animal that would walk into the cafe.
By the time Zenia came to a finish, the mist around her Black tea had already mostly dissipated. Not before she managed to draw it, of course. She lay her pencil beside the sheet and took a good look at it. Nothing special, but she was happy with the result.
Cracking her knuckles she stretched a bit on her chair, before finally taking the warm mug into her hands.
“You know, you are supposed to drink it hot. You better not complain afterwards, if it has a nasty taste to it,” Jeanne called from behind the counter.
“Don’t call me out like that!” Zenia said in a way that implied friendly bickering.
Zenia took a sip from her mug.
“Oh no. How terrible. I have never tasted a beverage this awful.” Needless to say, she was dripping with sarcasm.
“Tch, idiot,” Jeanne replied.
Any outsider watching would either think they were the biggest archenemies or an old married couple. Or both.
“Anyway, time to get to the real deal!” Zenia said after taking a pause for a few minutes. She stood up, stretched again, and went to Jeanne behind the counter. She was just brewing up some tea for another guest. It gave off a harsh yet sweet odor.
“Need any help?” Jeanne asked.
“Thanks, but I got this,” Zenia answered back, as she opened a door leading to a storage room.
A few minutes later, Zenia had transformed her corner of the cafe into an atelier. Little cups were all over the table, with Zenia’s tea hidden somewhere in between. A canvas stand was placed next to it, of course with the canvas leaning against it. Its top half was covered in various shades of blue, while the bottom half had mostly greenish and beige colors.
Zenia was glad to finally start the actual process of painting. For a few days before, she only did rough pencil sketches on the canvas and mixed together colors with the help of Jeanne. Jeanne really is a genius when it comes to the various uses of herbs, plants, berries, you name it. Jeanne is responsible for supplying Zenia with her paint. Even more of a reason for her to reject monetary compensation for her work.
Since she had painted her base before, she needed to do new sketches for some of the details. Rather important details, as she had to sketch the two protagonists of the piece up in the sky. It was two dragons, so that was quite the challenge. Zenia hadn’t had a chance to paint any dragons yet. Most she knew were Midi-Dragons as they were most commonly used for transportation, but she never got to do a full painting of one
After bringing out the canvas and putting it on a stand she pulled out a few sheets from her bag. They were sketches she did over the past few days.
When Zenia told me a few days ago that she would accompany me to my job I thought it weird. Of course, she would not sit by my desk all day, not to mention I’d move around the office a lot, and also deal with lots of sensitive information. No, in reality she wanted to come with to do sketches of the dragons at the hub. It was certainly an odd sight and I had to comfort some of the arriving guests that she wasn’t in fact a profiler or anything of the sorts.
In any case, the sketches she pulled out were those from that very day.
She spread them out on the table next to the canvas and took a good look at them. She had drawn a bunch of dragons from a variety of angles. The real issue was that she had to draw them mid-flight. She had done a bunch of rough sketches of dragons spreading their wings, but of course she couldn’t just go and ask them to stay in that pose for a few minutes. Those dragons were there to do their job.
Using a pencil, she started by drawing the torso of the smaller one, leaving the wings out for now. She had to get the size right before going on to the bigger one. The bigger dragon’s head would be as big as the smaller dragon and thus had to be much more detailed than the smaller.
She ruffled through her sketches, putting the ones with close-ups of dragon faces on top. Cracking her fingers, she got to work.