5 min read

Chapter 16: Interruptions

Saffron's sister is finally talking... but is there anything to say?
An image of a badger is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 16: Interruptions"

Need to get caught up?

Spring unfolded as gently as a blanket. The grass turned green and the leaves unfurled so gradually that Saffron hardly knew it was happening until it was finished. The bitter winds and heavy snows soon seemed far behind her, and the winter illnesses and injuries faded away into a calm and peaceful spring.

Despite the lovely weather and the reduced demands on her time, the atmosphere in Saffron’s cottage remained tense. Although her sister was finally speaking again, this only led to disagreements that made Saffron wonder whether it was an improvement over the three months of amiable silence that had gone before.

She didn’t mean to nag at Sage. But she wanted answers. She needed answers. Why had Sage disappeared? Had she been at the house the whole time? What was she doing there?

Sage wouldn’t answer any of her questions, and the conversations always ended in an argument. They both took to spending long hours away from the cottage just to get a break from each other.

At first, Saffron had kept busy with tending to her charges and gathering fresh herbs to replenish her stores. But as her to-do list grew shorter and she found herself with more free time, she started following her sister.

Sage was going somewhere. She left the cottage for long hours at a time–even longer than Saffron did–and often didn’t come back until dark. She was always coming and going from the same direction.

Saffron tried to tell herself that it was none of her business where Sage went or what she did, but eventually her curiosity won out. On a sunny day in April, she left the house a few minutes after her sister, tracking her footsteps through the mud, staying just out of sight as her sister forged through the woods ahead of her.

Bear didn’t appreciate this. He had grown to like Sage almost as much as Saffron. He hissed at them both when they yelled at each other, and now he longed to run ahead and greet Sage. But Saffron held him firmly in her arms and tried to soothe him into silence.

They had been walking for only fifteen minutes when something snuffled loudly to her right. Saffron froze in her tracks. Up ahead, Sage continued on her way, giving no sign that she had heard anything or that she knew Saffron was behind her.

Saffron turned toward the sound. A young badger approached and snuffled at her leg.

“Hey there,” she greeted him. “Glad to see you up and about, little fella.”

With a lot of time and care, the den of badgers she’d nursed through the winter had all made it safely through their sickness. Saffron was glad to see the adolescents–last year’s babies–out and exploring on their own.

The one beside her now pawed at her leg. Bear squirmed in her arms, trying to get down.

“Be nice,” she warned him. He gave her a withering look before jumping down to touch noses with the badger.

The two animals sniffed each other all over before running off to chase each other through the new spring growth on the forest floor. Saffron sighed and settled on a log to watch the two animals at play. Sage was already out of sight, and she couldn’t deny Bear his fun, or the badger the chance to enjoy itself after a long illness.

The next day after a silent breakfast, Sage announced that she was going for a walk and left the cottage with a slam of the door. Saffron grabbed her satchel and pulled on her boots, ready to follow her again, when there was a knock on the door.

“Meg! What a lovely surprise.”

Her friend smiled. “Hello, Saffron, dear, how are you?”

“I’m good, thank you. What’s the matter?”

“Nothing at all, I just hadn’t seen you in a while.”

“Oh, you didn’t have to walk all the way out here just to check up on me.”

Meg gave her an arch look. “Apparently I did. I haven’t seen you in town in ages.”

Saffron’s heart fell. She had rather neglected her friends lately. “I’m so sorry. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”

She could follow Sage another day. Some things were more important. And it would be nice to catch up with Meg. She returned her satchel to its place by the door and put the kettle on for tea.

The next morning, Sage snuck out of the cottage before the sun was up. Saffron woke when the door clicked shut and sprang out of bed to follow her. She struggled to keep her footsteps quiet in the pre-dawn silence.

Luckily, Bear was sleepy enough not to scamper ahead; he merely padded along beside her. She had tried to leave him at home in bed, but he insisted on coming along.

Sage went the same way as ever, and Saffron’s suspicions grew. They were heading straight for the centre of the forest, back toward the ancient house. Or what was left of it. Saffron hadn’t gone back to see it.

She had been following Sage for almost an hour when a bird burst out of a bush beside her, squawking. She ducked down behind the bush, hoping that Sage hadn’t turned at the noise and seen her. The bird–a partridge–continued to squawk. Saffron peered between the branches. Up ahead, Sage continued on her way, unperturbed by the noise. Saffron sighed and turned her attention to the partridge.

It flapped one wing awkwardly, and she flashed back to the crow she had nursed the previous year: the large claw marks on its wing that she hadn’t been able to identify at the time, not until later when she found the Beast. But further examination of the partridge showed that it was just a small scratch, and she found a thorn buried in its shoulder.

She pulled her healing herbs from her satchel. Bear curled up under the bush and went back to sleep while she worked. It didn’t take long to remove the thorn patch up the bird’s wing, but it was still long enough to lose any hope of catching up with Sage.

“Alright then,” she said with a sigh. “Keep your secrets, Sage.”

Clearly, the universe wanted her to stay home and let Sage go in peace. So she watched the partridge run back into the bushes and poked Bear until he roused from his nap.

“Let’s get you back to bed, little one.” The sun was just starting to rise and they had both earned an extra hour of sleep. “And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get a treat later.”

Propelled by the promise of treats, Bear picked himself up and led the way back home. With one last look over her shoulder toward the centre of the forest, Saffron turned and followed along behind him.

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!

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