Autumn made its presence known across the rocky hills of Redridge, arriving with gusting breezes laced with tastes of distant winter bite. Red, orange and yellow leaves fluttered from thick-limbed oak trees, coating the ground with a carpet of color. These leaves fell thick in the Lake Everstill cemetery, especially on the stoop of an unobtrusive, wood-clad shed tucked behind the tombstones.
It wasn’t empty. Gray-black smoke curled from the top of a black, iron pipe. Attached to the backside of the shed, it remained mostly hidden from view, even to the occasional fisherman who stalked catfish on Lakeshire’s opposite shore. Had someone been fishing on this particular morning, they might have heard laughter, singing and the banging of copper kettles from within the nondescript shed.
Brother Jeb was brewing.
Named after his grandfather, Jebediah was the latest in a long line of moonshiners who’d been brewing illegal alcohol in the hills of Redridge for time eternal. In fact, they’d been brewing for so long, the list read like a heraldic tree of Bradferd brewmaster lineage. Bradferd Shine was famous, and most in Redridge knew the family, or had at least heard the name.
Every so often, the King’s revenue agents would ride into town in an attempt to shut them down. However, the beverages always seemed to reappear in taverns, tables and cabinets around the district. When the King’s men asked questions, they were always met with blank stares and shoulder shrugs. If they asked more, they might mysteriously disappear while on patrol.
Redridge liked their shine, and the Bradferds kept their neighbors happy.
It was an October morning. A morning filled with bird song and acorns drumming on the shed’s tin roof. The cool mists settling across Lake Everstill provided the perfect water temperature for this seasons dram, and Brother Jeb was using it to his advantage. Metal vats of cold water, pulled straight from the heart of the lake, was now mixed with mashed cherries, tart apples and pure cane sugar. Local yeast had fermented the mixture into wine, yet the true magic was happening in the large copper still over which Jeb was leaning.
Making shine was a labor of love. Exact temperatures required for the perfect liquor took his constant attention, and singing brewing songs helped him keep time with the boil. Too hot and the liquor would flow fast – not good for quality shine. You wanted slow and steady, which he never failed to produce.
Autumn Bite. That was this season’s brew. The sweetness of the deep, red cherries from Elwynn combined with the tart, green apples of Westfall would make for a memorable drink to usher in Hallows End. So far, from what he’d tasted, it was one of a kind and better than any his pa ever made. This drink would be legendary.
Yet, as hard as he tried to do otherwise, his mind drifted elsewhere.
Just the week before, he’d run into Charlie while fishing for catfish in a refuse pile beneath the dock. He’d just pulled a small, wooden box from the floating debris when she called his name, taking his attention from the potential treasure chest. After some small talk and discussion of happenings around the district, they’d slipped into the tavern for a few drinks, and to catch up on local gossip.
He now wished he hadn’t. Not because of her, of course. She was a looker and friendlier than all get out. Always had been, so far as he recalled.
Nah, it’s what she’d said to him about a Colonel hanging out in city hall, looking for volunteers, that’d ruined his mind. The man wanted help with the Orc problem, and like a catfish gobbling up stink bait, Charlie’d taken the hook.
Come to find out, she’d been learnin’ bout bein a paladin. Even had a set of armor, so she said. Even had a book to help her learn, for fel’s sake. Borrowed from the cathedral in Stormwind. What was worse, she’d introduced him to the Colonel and now his mind was spinnin.
He twisted a copper knob on the still, lowering the flame to a yellow flicker. “Dang that woman,” he said, stepping to the top of a 3 rung stool to stir the thickening wine. He used a long, wooden paddle like found in wood-fired ovens to remove bread. He swirled the liquid, filling the air with the pungent sweet-tart scent of his future brew.
“Gettin’ me all fired up ta help that man.” He lifted the paddle, tapped it on the edge of the vat then hung it from a hook on the side of the shed. “I knowed she says he’s from round here, but I bet he ain’t. All a ruse ta get us kilt er somthin.”
He climbed down the stool and twisted the knob, running his fingers along a curling, twisted copper tube that wound its way into a large, glass jug. Soon, the good stuff would pour forth. He’d already skimmed the foreshots and saved the heads for the next batch in small glass jars he’d placed atop a wooden shelf.
Who wanted to fight wars, anyway? Sure, they’d all sat around a campfire talking bout how great the army was an all. But that was just beer talk. This man wanted fighters, recruits to convince some pit fighter to save em all from the Orcs. Or the Gnolls. He weren’t sure.
But Charlie? She wanted to be a hero. Swing swords, chop heads and save the world. Or at least Redridge, anyway. Fel, he’d tolt her all he could do was wack thangs with a stick. Orcs had swords and shields an such. What good would a stick do against that?
His eyes widened as the first drop of the good stuff fell into the greenish glass jug. A left over from a Goblin beverage incursion several years back, it provided the perfect container for the drink. He licked his lips as one drop became two, then ten and before long, the entire jug was filled with the first batch of the good stuff, Autumn’s Bite.
It would be legendary, and all thought of Orcs, Colonels and wacking sticks disappeared into the intoxicating red liquid that defined his life, that of his family and that of his heritage.
Autumn’s Bite, a name that would soon mean much more than he could have ever imagined.