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Chapter 19: Herbology & Harmony

A summery sisterly interlude for Saffron and Sage
An image of drying herbs is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 19: Herbology and Harmony"

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“Here you go.” Saffron handed a piece of twine up to Sage, who stood on a stool in the middle of the cottage.

“Is that the last of them?” Sage asked as she tied a bundle of oregano to the rafters.

“No, there’s two left. Nearly there.”

They had spent the morning gathering herbs and were tying half their harvest to hang from the rafters to dry and preserve. Bear observed them from the top of the china cabinet, pondering the dangling bundles as though he might make a leap for them..

“Why am I the one on the stool again?” Sage asked. “My arms are tired.”

“Because you spent our entire childhood bragging about how much taller you are than me.”

Sage stuck her tongue out. “I should have known that would come back to haunt me some day.”

They finished hanging the final bundles of herbs and Sage carefully crawled down from the stool.

“Thank you for all your help,” Saffron said as she swept up a few stray leaves. “I’d still be out in the woods if I had to do this all on my own.”

“Yeah, well, I guess we make a pretty good team.”

“We do. I’m glad you’re here.” Saffron hoped that the words conveyed everything she wanted to say but didn’t know how: I’m glad you’re safe. I’m glad you’re talking again. I’m glad you shared your secrets with me. I’m glad we’re friends again. I missed you.

The tensions between them had eased after Sage told her the real reason she had been in the house. She had been sent to look for a powerful artifact, but once she arrived, the Beast or its poison had infected her mind and prevented her from leaving. She had only come back to herself when Saffron burnt the house down.

As far as they could figure out, she had been in there for over a year. Sage didn’t know why the Beast had never attacked her. Saffron couldn’t understand how she’d withstood the poison for so long without suffering any ill effects.

The one thing Sage hadn’t shared was why she’d gone looking for this artifact in the first place. She just shook her head when Saffron asked. Whether she didn’t remember or wouldn’t say, Saffron didn’t know.

She didn’t press the issue. It was enough for the two of them to begin rebuilding their relationship, and the cottage no longer felt like a prison. They’d been working together for the past month: cooking, cleaning, cottage repairs, spells, long walks just for the pleasure of it. Sage had been at her side for all of it, and Saffron was glad of the company.

Now, Sage looked to the clock on the wall. “Is that the time? I’ve really got to go.”

Saffron raised an eyebrow. “Dinner with Alistair again?”

Despite his early insistence that he was just passing through, Alistair had stayed in town all summer, moving on from odd jobs to regular work at the inn and even renting a small room in town. He and Sage had only grown closer since she’d finally started talking.

Sage blushed. “Oh, hush. It’s only the second time this week.”

“Third,” Saffron teased her. “Go on. Have fun.”

Sage got ready in a whirlwind of hairpins and powder before bouncing out the door and down the lane toward town. Saffron waved her off and then turned her attention back to the now empty cottage.

“My dinner date is far cuter, anyway.” She glanced up at Bear, who was still perched atop the cabinet. “Assuming you’re going to come down from there and join me?”

He hopped down at her words and rubbed up against her legs as she prepared a small plate of dried fish, crusty bread, and fresh juicy blackberries. She took the meal outside to eat on the front step in the golden glow of the summer evening. Bear sat beside her and stole bites of fish from her plate. Together, they watched the slow setting of the sun over the dancing grasses of the meadow and babbling of the brook, as the sky turned from blue to purple to black, until the stars were shining and the crickets were singing.

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