4 min read

Chapter 15: The Flood

Saffron protects the town... with a little help
An image of ice on a river is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 15: The Flood"

Need to get caught up?

“Lift the back edge a little more, please.”

Alistair pushed his end of the board up higher. “Better?”

“Perfect! Hold it for just a second.” Saffron hammered in a nail to hold the board in place. “There, you can let go.”

Alistair shook out his arms as she pounded in the remaining nails to secure the board. The shed’s roof had sprung a leak over the winter. At the time, she’d just moved all her tools to the other side of the building, but now that the weather was starting to warm, they’d been working to patch it up.

Alistair had been taking on all kinds of odd jobs in the past month. He refused to take any money from Saffron, so she didn’t ask for much. But he did come to dinner a few times a week, and he hadn’t argued when Sage had started spending her evenings patching his clothes and knitting him warm things.

As Saffron climbed down from the ladder Sage came out of the house with steaming mugs of tea. She nodded approvingly at their progress on the roof as she handed them each a mug. It was a warm day for March, but warm for March still had enough chill to nip at their fingers and noses. Saffron was glad of the hot mug on her cold hands.

“Time for a break, I think.” She needed to warm up her fingers if she was going to trust them to hold a nail steady.

She leaned back against the shed to enjoy the tea and the sun. The ground squelched beneath her feet; it had downpoured the day before. Bear picked his way across the lawn, searching for a dry spot to sit. Not finding one, he hopped up on Saffron’s toolbox instead.

At the other end of the shed Alistair’s voice alternated with Sage’s laughter. Her sister still hadn’t spoken a word, but somehow she and Alistair made it work. He was always ready with a story or a joke, and when he ran out, they both seemed comfortable with silence.

Saffron had nearly finished her tea when a loud crack echoed from the wood. Her head snapped around. Bear jumped to attention, poised to strike or to streak away, frozen in the moment of fight or flight. Alistair broke off in the middle of a sentence.

She couldn’t see anything. She waited. There was another crack, smaller, and then a few creaks and groans followed by a crash. She set her mug on a rung of the ladder and came back around the edge of the shed.

“What’s happening?” Alistair asked.

“I don’t know.” She scanned the edge of the woods, looking for anything out of place, but it was as calm and peaceful as ever. “I’d best get my things.”

She ran into the cottage for her satchel, throwing in a few extra spell components before rushing back out again. There was still no sign of anything from the forest. Saffron turned toward town, but everything there was intact too. There were no shouts or yells or other signs of distress. No one had come running out to fetch her.

Sage tapped her arm and Saffron turned back toward the forest to look where her sister was pointing. The stream was overflowing its banks; chunks of ice were being swept along by a current far stronger than usual.

“The falls,” she breathed. “The falls must have thawed.”

“After all that rain…” Alistair filled in the gaps.

Saffron glanced from the stream to the town. The flooding water was definitely high enough to do some damage to the nearest buildings. It would likely take out the bridge, at the very least.

She threw down her satchel--nothing in there could solve this problem--and ran closer to the stream, muttering the words of an incantation as she went. She lifted her hands, guiding her magic toward the flow of the water, trying to tap into its energy.

The water was slow to respond. It had always been her weakest element. Especially now, months after her last wade through the river, when it was full of fresh rain and melted snow, new water that wasn’t connected to her land the way she was, her control over it was weak.

Gradually, thought, the flow of water slowed down. The crashing waves faltered and came to a stop, first one, and then another, until the flood came to a halt. She had stopped it. She had bought the town some time, at least.

But the water had to go somewhere. She couldn’t force it into the still-frozen ground. Chunks of ice knocked together as more of them came down the stream. More runoff from the falls was building up behind her magical dam, pushing ever harder against her spell, trying to break through.

She wasn’t sure how long she could hold it.

Tears stung at the corners of her eyes from the effort of holding the water back. She couldn’t hold out much longer. She couldn’t stop this from happening.

And then the burden eased. The water no longer pushed quite so hard. It started to flow, slowly, gently, just like she’d wanted it to. But it wasn’t her doing this. Another voice had risen and spoke the words of the spell along with her. A stronger magic had joined her own and done what she could not.

She slowly relinquished control of the water over to the other spell, letting the other witch take over and calm the stream’s waters, until all the excess water was gone and the stream flowed once more. The water was high and it ran fast, but it was no longer a crashing flood that would harm the town.

Saffron lowered her arms and turned around, listening as a voice she hadn’t heard in years murmured the last words of the spell.

“Sage?” she reached hesitantly toward her sister. “Are you--?”

Sage stared wide-eyed at her, still coming down from the spell.

Saffron put a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you for helping. I couldn’t have done that on my own.”

Sage blinked and broke into a grin. “Still haven’t mastered water, then, little sister?”

Thank you for reading! If you’re not already subscribed, click below to get the next chapter delivered directly to your inbox. See you next month!

Psst! If you like my writing, check out my sci-fi flash fiction story, “Your Hero Can’t Save You Now” on Daily Science Fiction.

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