Interlude 1 – Teatime

This entry takes place outside the normal flow of the game, and instead of using Apothecaria uses the marvelous The Teapot: Slightly Steeped game by Marren J. T. MacAdam. This is a preview version of the game (the final edition will be called Fully Steeped). The game is based on the Lost & Found Game Jam which has some fantastic entries using the engine that developed from Artefact. I highly recommend them.

The Creating

You were…. made. A crude term that encompasses so much art, and time, and care. Who knows how many like you were made, gently sculpted from clay that’s been lost for aeons using techniques that were already old when the world was young.

You were made. For a purpose. With love for the craft and only the simple desire to have a personal companion. Rather than being made to be sold, to be traded, displayed… you were made to be used. A simple implement with none of the filigree or pomp of your time and yet all the majesty and artistry of it.

And somehow, though nobody really knew how at the time, the right circumstances came together to make you. The right spark of something magical to let your humble creator turn their tea into something more. Their own teashop was bustling and a hotspot in the city, even the continent! People would come for the legendary powers of the staff and the tools they would use to bring out the magic in simple ingredients to make a drink that gave you what you needed most. You were for them to use at home, not paraded in front of emperors and queens, just humble crafts folk, and their family.

You were made to be humble and resilient. A boxy body that was an almost perfect cube, a simple spout, and a handle that looked like it was worn the moment it was made. Your colour was a deep black, almost like you were made of iron though you weren’t. Your lid was the only decoration, a little wooden tealeaf to stop the brewer burning themselves on it.

They knew you were special when you Awoke. After the firing and the first brewing a delicate set of white dots became apparent on one of your faces. The dots formed a constellation, a family sitting at a table together. And from then they knew you were not only special, but you were theirs.

For those years you were well looked after and regularly used, far more than any of your sibling pieces. Some of them ended up in collections, cabinets, hoards. No; you were used every morning with a blend of leaves to pick people up and help wake them and again at night to calm and sooth them before bed. There was no day during that time that you weren’t used.

Some days you were used more. Celebrations, when a new life was bought into the world, or a new union made. Those were a delight as everyone sat around and you would be used time and time again, letting no cup run dry. Then there were the bad days. War, sickness, loss. You would, shakily, be used to try and make something calming. Once, in a fit of anger, someone else lifted you above their head to smash you on the table. You still remember the bolt of fear, of regret at not helping them, but it was never your sole responsibility. They wouldn’t do it, either. They placed you down and sobbed, their anger replaced in that moment with the realisation what they’d nearly done, and why.

Eventually though, your creator passed on. They left you to their family who tried to keep you and keep using you… but you bought too much pain to look at. They were reminded ever time what they were missing, and it hurt. So they stopped using you, and you passed in to storage, and time moved on.

The Beginnings

You have no idea how long it was before you were used again. Eventually your box was sold by someone, maybe the descendants of your creator or maybe just the people who ended up in their house. Still, you were packaged with other items and sold for a sum that to this day you find insulting. You wonder “did they know who my creator was?!” and in all likelihood they did not.

Your new Infuser was very new; young and full of energy, just setting up a new tea shop in their city. These such shops would spring up overnight and be gone just as quickly, it was never easy to compete in cities and the business was ruthless in ways.

They were different, though, partly in that they were lucky. A chance auction, a few coins changing hands, and they were the proud owner of objects worth more to some than the city in its entirety. They certainly didn’t know what you were when they bought you and when they found out the shock was nearly their undoing. Should they sell you on? That much money could make them rich beyond their dreams, while also making them a target. No, they eventually decided, they would keep you and use you as your creator had intended. You were proud of them for that.

Their shop was small, cheap, but cozy. Browns and greens, muted colours and plenty of earth tones. Although it only had space for a handful of occupants it quickly became full, and once word got out about the quality of the tea and the skill of the Infuser there was never a free space again. And yet they never raised their prices beyond what they needed, never expanded, never pushed. They were happy serving people the tea that, they discovered, could do so much more for them.

A tired soldier given a reminder of home. A mother worrying about the future of her family given respite for a day. A young boy sleeping rough given the hope and determination to keep going. All of these and more your Infuser helped in their small way. You wondered why they didn’t ever grow their work, until you noticed the way their gazes lingered on the people who couldn’t afford the already low prices and how your Infuser would always spare a cup to those who otherwise wouldn’t have one.

You remember this shop fondly. You still miss your creator and the homely atmosphere of belonging to a family, but you appreciated the work your Infuser did. You saw value and need there and were only too happy to lend your support and power to them. Your Infuser has a blend of Green Tea specifically for those times. Quick to make, simple, and delicious as it comes. Feelings of peace, rest, but also hope and a promise that there are good days after the bad. It’s this blend that keeps not only the teashop running, but the outcasts of the city surviving.

Then, one day, they were gone. They didn’t arrive in the morning, or the next, or the next….

Years passed in solitude as the shop was left abandoned to rot. It was war, you now knew from glimpsed conversation. A draft of all people able to fight. Who started it was irrelevant, the reasons now pointless, the scope so far beyond what anyone wanted it was impossible to roll back. This was… it? How the world ended? You couldn’t say but there seemed to be no way out of this war for anyone.

And then one day an elderly person walked through the door and their eyes immediately fixed on you. They had come back after all this time, but no longer who they were. Gone was their energy, their determination, their drive. What had been left by the brutal machine of war was a person who carried themselves like they were ashamed to be here. Heavy lines on their face, a stiffness in their movements, a flinch at every noise.

They took you, then. You both left the city, the country, then the continent. They travelled on little, hunting and bartering where they needed, running from the place they had been forced to kill parts of themself for.

You will never know what happened, but you know bits of it. You know the nights camped waiting for the fight in fear, the pain of being injured and looking up at the night sky wondering if this was it, the burning hatred that this was what they were now. But also, some of the tender moments of protecting those even younger who had been swept up, training them to live just another day, and finally of seeing it over and done.

One night while you camp beside a river, they take you out and go to make the same cup of the cheap measly tea they’d stockpiled from their days in the army. “The only tea I can stomach now” they used to say. You weren’t one to turn your nose up at a blend but… well. You let them know your feelings on the matter. Still that night was different.

A tiny tin, barely any tea, but a floral jasmine tea was brewed that night. A single cup, but re-steeped over and over as they told you the only story they were proud of. A story of a family fleeing, of the hungry and injured people who had seen you and known only weary resignation. And then wary hope as you gave them rations and help. Of escorting them to safety, of helping them to flee out of the country. Of the sweet young girl who have you this tin of her favourite tea. The last comfort from home. They did meet them again on their travels, a moment even you found difficult to watch as your Infuser broke down and wept at the sight of the family thriving and safe. Their anxieties about not doing more, not going further, placated with the knowledge they had done something to save life.

The moment so powerful and bold it etched another constellation into you, flecks of paint and dust solidifying into a jasmine flower.

They gifted you to the family then, knowing you couldn’t be lost to history. They said it was in thanks for the tea and they would return to have a cup every year.

They did for many years and then, as things go, they didn’t anymore.

The Golden Era

You pass many years with this family. You watch them come and go, grow into a tree of people in their new home. They remember you and use you fondly, though almost reverentially. It doesn’t take long before the relationship between you both begins to change them, and they start to learn how to use you to awake magic in their teas. They become a fine dynasty of Infusers, and while you are kept as a fine family heirloom more like you are used by them in a small empire of tea shops. You remember most fondly the hand of the little girl, first and adult and then an elderly lady. She held you so tightly like she still couldn’t believe you were real and, while she tried a great many teas, she always came back to her favourite, the jasmine tea.

She found a lover and you were lucky enough to watch their relationship bloom. A quiet softly spoken lady who had been through a similar experience and fled her home. They spent time together, quietly in the corner of the house, simply reading and holding each other, and being close. When your Infuser gave her a glass of tea you made sure to funnel all her feelings into each cup. As they grew closer your Infuser’s now-wife learned more about tea and formed her own favourites, particularly smokey assam. You made sure to return the favour and pour her feelings into the cups for your Infuser.

You’re never sure if they stayed together through the hardships of their life because of you, but you certainly helped. You spend many a cold winter with them as they curl up and read, drinking tea by firelight.

Their budding love formed another mark on you. Once more the marks and smudges on your exterior formed a pattern. A constellation of tiny white dots that show one of those crackling fireplaces.

Eventually they pass too, and you witness an argument like you had never seen before. The family gathered, at your Infuser’s funeral no less, to have their say. Half wanted to take you and use you, to spread and grow across the world! Half wanted to keep you secret and squirrel you away, see if more could be made, but protect you above all else.

In the end the decision was made for them. The argument did not resolve that day, or the next, or that week even. But while they continued to argue and use you someone caught sight.

The family never knew what happened next, but you did. In the darkest moments of the night someone entered the house, someone who didn’t belong, and in a second you were gone. They never found you, and if they had your new owner wouldn’t have let them have you.

Your Infuser was now someone who recognised you for what you were. They saw a priceless masterpiece from ancient history someone, implausibly, not only surviving but in perfect condition. And they coveted it. For those in power it was a trifling thing to obtain the object they so wanted. And so it was that you became ornamentation for the royal family and their personal Steeper.

They didn’t use you, as you quickly found out royals don’t really use anything. Things are bought, made, and used once, and then stored for the rest of their lives. You were used far more than once, but still not the daily use you had grown accustomed to. Once a month, at most, you were wheeled out to much attention and praise. Visiting dignitaries would see you, make appreciative noises, maybe sample a cup, and then you’d be put back in storage.

You did learn something from the Royal Steeper, knowledge that you didn’t really want. While some Infusers were skilled enough, they could pull out your magic and brew teas that conveyed emotions, some were able to influence. A subtle blend of calm, contentment, and a touch of joy; why with the right words that could become trust. And trust….. trust is dangerous. When dealing with royalty, emperors, leaders of state… trust can cause harm to so many.

And it did.

Nations were subsumed, ways of life lost to the growing empire. Deals were struck that appeared to make everyone happy and rich but years later tightened like a noose. You lost count of how many times you saw this happen.

Eventually the empire went the way of all empires and collapsed. A charismatic leader who held people to his cause was all well and good until he succumbed to the final equaliser and passed away. Some regarded it as a travesty he died peacefully in bed, some with fear that their way of life was coming to an end, and some as opportunity. As always happens where was a struggle, a power vacuum, and unity turned to discord.

In the ensuing struggle and fall you were lost. Misplaced one day and never found by the people in power again, although it wasn’t long before they had much more pressing things on their minds.

The Quiet Years

Things get messy here, although it’s a much more recent memory. You spend time passed between many people but none for long. You don’t form strong connections, none are skilled at using you, and it’s a miracle you’re not broken. But eventually you were dropped during a hurried packing up of a camp. With a wet thud you fell in the mud and remained there.

You don’t know how long you were in the mud for. And I confess I don’t either, none of the names are recorded in our oldest histories. It was long enough that the very land changed around you, twisting and reshaping as nature willed. The mud washed away and turned to a river, pulling you gently along. You bumped and chipped yourself as you were pulled downstream to a basin, then a river, then a loch.

And that, as you well know, is where I found you. And while I lack the peerage, or the power, or the knowledge of your previous owners… well, I have something you’ve not had for a long time. A family of dozens.

Here in this little sleepy village of High Rannoc you remain, your true power unknown to everyone except me. You sit with me under the great old oak at the table made just for us. We hold court, as the young like to jokingly refer. People come with their problems, and we listen. We put a little note of power into each cup, maybe a drop of courage or a smidge of calm, but we make sure people leave better than they arrive. After all what more can you ask for.

And we have so many people in our family now! Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren even! And they marry, and have children of their own, and they bring friends and neighbours, and all of a sudden, we’re surrounded by a bustling village that’s almost unrecognisable. But then you see a child look up at their parent just the way we remember our children looking up at us, and we can see the world carry on.

Here we’ll stay for a while longer. Both of us marked with age, the stories of our lives written across our bodies. You with your constellations (yes, I can see them!), me with my scars and spots. Each mark is a story that led us to be here. Joy, and struggle, and sadness…. so much heartbreak we thought we’d never keep going. But then more than enough joy to balance it out.

Once day you’re going to have to carry on again. And you’re going to miss me, I know! But you’re strong and you’ll find more joy. Maybe that nice young witch girl could look after you for a time, but that’s a thought for another time. For now, there’s tea to brew and smiling faces to surround ourselves with. So, we make sure we always remember the joy.

Photo by Drew Jemmett on Unsplash

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