4 min read

Chapter 12: Midwinter

Saffron finds comfort in the darkest part of the year
An image of chestnuts in a pan is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 12: Midwinter"

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The village was decorated in boughs of evergreen and vines of ivy for the midwinter festival. Saffron’s boots crunched through a layer of snow as she walked through the town to deliver her parcels. Bear padded along beside her, occasionally brushing up against her leg.

The sun was just starting to lower in the sky as she reached Meg and Henry’s house and tapped gently at the door. It opened a moment later and Meg’s face greeted her with a smile.

“Saffron dear! Come in, come in.”

She stomped the snow off her boots and removed them in the entryway, leaving her warm outer layers hanging by the door. Bear immediately curled up on the hearth and made himself comfortable. By the time Saffron had shed her outdoor clothes, Henry had appeared with a bite of dried meat for the cat and Meg had put the kettle on for tea.

“You don’t have to go to the trouble for me,” she insisted. “I’m just glad to see you.”

“And we are to see you. It’s been too long.” Meg gave her a pointed look. “You've been looking after yourself?”

“Yes,” Saffron lied. “Bear keeps me in check.” That much was true, anyway.

“I see you took your sign down.”

“Yes, I found the answers I was looking for.”

“And did you solve your problem?”

Saffron considered this for a moment. “After a fashion.”

Sure, she’d killed the beast and stopped its poison from spreading through the forest, but now she had the new problem of a sister who wouldn’t speak. Sage had woken up the day after Saffron found her, but she hadn’t spoken a word in the month that had passed since. She sat all day staring into the fire. She ate when Saffron gave her food. Sometimes Bear would sit with her and she would pet him absently, as though the motion were purely automatic. But otherwise she was unresponsive.

She didn’t say any of this to Meg and Henry, though. She just smiled and added, “the forest should be safe now.”

“I’m glad to hear it, dear. I wish you’d take the same care of yourself.” Apparently Meg hadn’t bought her earlier lie. “For now, though, let’s have tea.”

Saffron passed a pleasant afternoon with her friends, letting their love and laughter wash over her. Meg served her cup after cup of tea, and Saffron kept drinking them, warm and content in the sitting room, able to forget her worries for a few minutes.

It was Bear who roused her, jumping up onto her lap and meowing loudly. She patted him and smiled. “Time to go home, is it, boy?”

She drew herself up out of the cozy chair and prepared to go back out into the cold.

“Don’t be a stranger, dear,” Meg told her as they said their goodbyes. “We’re always glad to see you.”

“Thank you, Meg. You’re right. This was just what I needed.”

“Here. Take these for the road.” The older woman pressed a sachet of cookies into her hand, and cut her off before she could object. “I insist.”

Saffron tucked the treats into her satchel and took her leave from her friends, stepping back out into the cold as the sun painted the sky with the orange glow of sunset. She had to hurry to make it home before it dipped below the horizon.

Back at the cottage, she didn’t bother shucking off her winter clothes as she rushed to the hearth. The large Yule log she had cut earlier was already there, and she quickly lit her kindling. The fire crackled to life just before the last rays of sunlight faded. She smiled, knowing she would keep the light alive through the longest night of the year.

Once her fire was started, she got settled in for the evening. Her sister sat on the sofa where she’d left her that morning, and Bear had hopped up to nestle beside her. Saffron laid the parcel of cookies beside her.

“Look what Meg gave us. And I’ve got chestnuts here for roasting. We’ll have a little solstice celebration. Just like when we were kids, remember?”

Sage looked from her to the food and back again, smiling vaguely. Saffron smiled back, knowing it was the best she would get. She reached out and placed her hand over her sister’s cold fingers, giving them a slight squeeze.

“I’m glad to have you home, sis. I promise I’ll help you get your voice back.”

Her sister’s fingers squeezed hers back. Saffron gasped. She looked to her sister, but Sage only stared ahead into the fire and made no other response.

Saffron got to work roasting the chestnuts, grateful for a day spent with those she loved most, and reminded herself that even the shortest and darkest days held a glimmer of light.

Thank you for reading! I’m truly grateful for everyone who’s signed up and read my stories this past year. Thank you so much for making time in your lives for my little stories.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitter or instagram.