4 min read

Chapter 20: A Secret Revealed

Saffron gets a concerning piece of information
A background image of biscuits is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 20: A Secret Revealed"

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July faded into a hot and hazy August. The air was heavy with humidity rolling in from the distant shoreline. Some days Saffron swore she could smell the salt on the air. She dreamed of the ocean almost every night, big crashing waves rolling over her as she slept. She would wake drenched in sweat with Bear’s weight pressing on her chest.

The days were beautiful, though, with blue skies as bright as gemstones, the clouds that scudded across them as delicate as flowers.

On one such day, she and Bear were walking through town with Sage and Alistair. They’d had a long and luxurious lunch in the garden before heading into the town for some errands. Saffron had some deliveries to make, while Sage was dropping off some mending and Alistair–well, he was just along for the trip. Neither he nor Sage went far without the other, these days.

As they entered the town, they parted ways, with a promise to meet up by the stream for dinner.

“Come along, Bear,” she called to her cat, who was distraught to be separated from his friends, even if only for a short while. “No time to dawdle today.”

She delivered her packages to the Hendrickses and the Shermans and then she followed her nose to the bakery. They didn’t need anything, but the smell of fresh bread drew her in, and before long she walked out with a dozen rolls. She was dreaming of eating them with fresh butter and wild honey when she spotted a familiar person crossing the street ahead of her.

“Hey!” she yelled, pulled out of her reverie. “Bella!”

The woman turned, her long black hair swinging behind her. A smile spread across her face when she spotted Saffron.

“Miss witch,” she said as they drew nearer each other. “What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to thank you. For your story at the Harvest Festival. It was very helpful.”

“You went, then.” She clucked her tongue. “I told you not to go to the heart of the forest.”

“It worked, though. I got rid of the poison.”

“You’re sure about that, are you?”

“Of course.” Saffron frowned. She hadn’t seen any sign of the poison since she’d destroyed the house. Surely by now she would have noticed something if it were still there.

“You may have slowed its spread, but such things aren’t dispersed so easily.”

“Why should I believe you? How did you even know about the house in the first place?”

“I’m not a witch, if that’s what you’re worried about. Not trying to infringe on your territory.”

“What else do you know?” Saffron demanded. She was in no mood to play games, and she was tired of questions without answers. “Tell me.”

“My, my. Demanding, aren’t we?” Bella tilted her head to the side, then nodded, as though she’d decided something. “I suppose a little taste can’t hurt you. How about this: I know what your sister was looking for, and I know where it is.”


“Haven’t you guessed?” Bella winked. “The Professor has it.”

“The Professor? Professor Burton?” Saffron blinked, caught off guard. “She isn’t– She wouldn’t… would she?”

“Wouldn’t she?” Bella shrugged. “Now then, I’ve business to attend to. Don’t expect any more handouts, alright?”

She pivoted on her heel and stalked off in her original direction, leaving Saffron alone in the middle of the street. She watched the other woman walk away until Bear butted his head against her legs.

“Fine,” she muttered, and turned around herself. “Let’s get going then.”

Bear hopped onto her shoulder and rubbed his face against hers, purring, and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“Alright, alright.” She rubbed his head with her free hand. “I’ll try not to let her get to me.”

She took her rolls and her cat and headed for the stream, wondering the whole way about Sage and Professor Burton and artifacts. She was grateful to reach the shade of the forest, and slowed her pace to savour the cooler air. She followed the murmur of the stream and the rumble of Sage and Alistair’s conversation until she found the two of them stretched on the bank. Bear gamboled ahead to thrust his head under Alistair’s hand, demanding attention.

She plopped down next to them and set down her parcel. “I brought rolls.”

“Perfect,” Sage declared. “We have fish and cheese and peaches. It’s a feast.”

Saffron tore into a roll, inhaling its soothing scent. She still longed for butter and honey, but the rolls were delicious on their own.

“These are really good,” Sage said.

“I know,” Saffron agreed. She paused for a second before finishing her thought.. “Not as good as mom’s, though.”

“Oh, gosh. No one’s are. And her spice cakes?”

“I still dream about her spice cakes. I tried to make them, but I swear there’s a secret ingredient she refuses to tell me.”

“Right? She’s sneaky.”

Saffron almost hated to ruin the pleasant moment, but she needed to know. “Sage? We need to talk about why you came here. The real reason.” She set down her unfinished roll. “Did Professor Burton send you?”

Sage sought up straight. “How did you know? Did she tell you? What did she tell you?”

Saffron shook her head. “It wasn’t her. A lady in town, Bella? She claimed you were all connected.”

“Bella?” Sage frowned. “Doesn’t ring a bell. I can’t say I know about her, but yes. Professor Burton did ask me to look for the artifact.”

“Why? What does she need it for?”

Sage shook her head. “I don’t know. She would never tell me.”

“Then why did you do it?”

Sage shrugged. “She asked. She was my mentor too, you know. I idolized her as much as you do.”

“I know.” Saffron picked up her roll again. “I need to talk to her. Bella said the poison might not be gone.”

“What does that mean?” Alistair cut in. His voice was tense. “How could there be any left?”

“I don’t know,” Saffron sighed. “But I’m going to find out.”

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If you enjoy my writing, my story, “Flesh Unknown”, was recently published over on Horror Tree’s website.

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