“It needs to be thicker, like honey,” Aunt Kira said.
Liza blew her damp hair out of her eyes. “How would you know?”
Aunt Kira’s chin dropped toward the kettle of bubbling apple brew and Liza felt a stab in her heart. “I’m sorry, Aunt. I just…I’ve been trying to get this right for weeks. What if I can’t match Father’s and the King destroys our contract?”
Aunt Kira put her hands on Liza’s where they hovered in the steam above the copper kettle. “You carry the apple magic in your blood, Liza. Even your doubt can’t change that.”
“I wish he was here to teach me.” She glanced across the cottage at Mother’s still form on the bed by the fire. “What will we do if—”
“Hush.” Aunt Kira pulled her hands away. “I think you need to walk in the orchard again.”
“But the cider is due tomorrow!”
“All the more reason to speak with the apples. Perhaps you missed something.”
Liza stepped back and the brew calmed. “All right. I’ll try one more time.”
The crisp air beneath the trees cooled the sweat on her forehead. If she didn’t figure this out soon, the King would choose another Cider Maker tomorrow. They would lose the farm, and Mother would never see a real doctor.
“That is not an option,” Liza said through her teeth. “I will match Father’s cider.”
Her own words echoed in her head, entwined with something Mother often said before she fell ill. “You must be your own human, Liza. The magic in your blood is a responsibility, but only you can use it properly.
All these weeks, she’d been trying to make a cider just like Father’s. Was that why the cider wouldn’t cooperate? She needed her own brew, or the magic backfired.
Hope flooded in like a mug of something warm. She was at the end of the orchard, and she was out of breath by the time she reached the cottage again.
“I knew it.” Aunt Kira smiled as Liza burst through the door.
Liza waited until her lungs stopped aching to raise her hands over the kettle again. The brew leaped up and bubbled, as if sensing the change in her. She closed her eyes and let her hands move as they would. She felt sticky vapor coating her fingers as the cider thickened, and then thinned, and finally filled with air.
“Bubbles!” Aunt Kira laughed.
Dressed in her best burgundy gown, Liza concentrated on holding her hands steady so the cider tray wouldn’t shake. The King’s mug of cider sat in the center with a snowy napkin beside it. The cider sparkled constantly, even more so when Liza stepped near.
She’d felt so sure yesterday, this was her brew, her own kind of magic. But would the King even want something so different from previous years. Father’s brew had been sweet and heavy, like honey. The King mixed it with cream. This brew was more like punch, and filled one with a desire to laugh. Aunt Kira had giggled all night from her zealous sampling.
“The Cider Maker, Sire,” the footman announced to the King.
“Bring him in.”
“Ah, I’m afraid it’s his daughter, Sire. The Cider Maker passed on last year, remember?”
“Oh, yes. Of course. Bring her in, then.”
Liza managed to walk straight. She approached the King as she had been instructed and bowed low. “Your cider, Sire.”
“You may look at me, Miss…”
“Liza, Sire.” She peeked up at him. His dark eyes looked kind, but tired.
“I am ready for the most delicious cider in the kingdom, Miss Liza.” He gestured her to come forward. She set the tray on the side table and carried the mug and napkin to him. She felt cold and empty inside, and was grateful for the feeling. Otherwise she’d have dropped everything and run.
An hour seemed to pass as the King lifted the mug and drank. He squinted, thoughtful. Liza held her breath. The King took another long swallow and smacked his lips. He grinned, and then his chest shook with a chuckle. Liza let out her air as he drained the mug and held it up.
“Miss Liza, I have never tasted such delicious cider in my life. Bubbles! In cider!” He laughed. “Bring me more!” He roared.
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