6 min read

Chapter 26: Tea for Two

Saffron makes a house call and conducts some research
An image of a teapot and two cups is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 26: Tea for Two"

Need to get caught up?

“Thanks so much for inviting me,” Saffron said as she shook the snow from her boots on Mr. Payton’s doorstep.

“Of course, of course.” He brushed away her thanks as he took her coat. “I know how hard these long winter days can be. We all get a little lonely in the dark depths of February.”

“I certainly appreciate it.”

Bear was already curled up by the hearth by the time Saffron removed her outerwear and came into the cottage. She resisted the temptation to go straight to Mr. Payton’s bookshelves and instead followed him over to the little table where he had tea set out and waiting for them.

It had been a mild February, but he was right about the dark depths. The holiday party and her adventure with the goose had drawn her out of her worries over Professor Burton for a while, but in the long winter nights when there was nothing to do but sit alone by the fire, it was easy to lose sight of those bright things.

“How have you been holding up this winter?” she asked her host as he poured the tea.

“Well enough. The weather’s been much kinder than last year. Less work to keep everything shipshape.”

“And the dark depths of February?”

“I’ve had a lot of practice keeping them at bay, my dear.” He winked. “I have my routines. Caring for the goats keeps me busy for a good part of the day. By the time I care for the house and myself, I put the time in quite well.”

“That doesn’t sound like such a bad way to live.” Saffron warmed her hands on her tea cup. “I’ve always found comfort in routines myself.”

“Indeed.” He paused for a moment as though figuring out how to say what came next. “The thing about routines is, when something unexpected happens, it can throw us off a little too much sometimes.”

Saffron kept her gaze on her tea. “I suppose. so”

“What I’m trying to say is, I know you were thrown off by what happened with your old professor and the changes to the wood. It’s easy to fixate on the thing that threw us out of our routine, but sometimes it’s best to find new rituals around the disturbance.”

“I’m still trying to find my footing.” She paused. “I suppose Sage told you about all that when she invited you over at Christmas?”

“She mentioned some of it. I knew about the changes to the forest already, seeing as I live here. Didn’t know it was your professor’s doing.”

“Did you know about the house?” Saffron asked. “About the family that lived there?”

“Not exactly.” Mister Payton shook his head. “I knew there was a family that lived in the woods, but they never came into town much. There were whispers about something bad that happened to them, but it was just rumours and stories. For all we knew, they just up and moved away.”

“Did your mother ever talk about it?”

“Not that I recall. Should she have?”

“There was a note written in the back of that mushroom book you gave me, that was connected to the house. I wondered if maybe there was something that happened back then.”

“She never talked about it with me.” Mister Payton shook his head. “But you’re welcome to take a look at the bookshelf. There are a few of her other books there that might have similar notes.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

Saffron sipped her tea and Mister Payton laughed. “You can take a look now if you like. I can see it’s killing you not to.”

“I don’t want to be rude.”

“It’s not rude if I’m offering. Go ahead.”

Saffron examined the bookshelf, pulling down any likely looking volumes and sitting on the floor to flip through them. After a few minutes, Bear roused himself from his place by the fire and came over to curl up by her side. The fire behind her crackled pleasantly and Mister Payton hummed softly to himself as he flipped through the pages of a book at the table. Saffron felt so cozy and comfortable that she could have easily curled up on the rug and fallen asleep just like her cat.

But she had books to examine and a long walk home and supper with Sage, so she suppressed a yawn and turned her attention to the pages in front of her.

The first few books brought nothing of much use, but when she picked up the fourth volume from her stack, a piece of folded up paper slipped out from between its pages. Once she had it unfolded, it took her a moment to figure out what she was looking at. But as she read the few words on the page, the symbols that surrounded them began to make sense.

Here was the bat cave, and here was the badger’s den, and there was the stream that cut through the forest. It was a map.

And there, in the centre of the map, unlike any others she’d seen, was a little drawing of a house, labelled “Morris House”. Underneath that, someone had written in a different hand “Stay away”.

There was only one unfamiliar location marked on the map. Near the house was a little cluster of arches labelled “Emerald Cemetery”.

“Mister Payton,” Saffron asked as she crossed over to the table, “have you ever heard of this cemetery in the wood?”

She spread the map in front of him and pointed to the markings. He studied it for a moment as he made sense of what he was showing her, then shook his head.

“No, I haven’t. That must be quite an old place. I’ve never heard of it or come across it in my wanders. I’d be interested to find it.”

“You’re not the only one, I reckon.” Saffron thought of the Crown’s power to restore what was lost. Was the person Professor Burton was looking for buried here? “Do you mind if I borrow this?”

“You go ahead and keep it. Anything that might help.”

“Thank you so much.” Saffron folded up the map and tucked it into her satchel. She took a cursory glance over the other books she’d pulled from the shelf, but none of them turned up anything of interest. She carefully replaced them in their spots and by the time she was done she found that Mister Payton had cleared away the tea things.

“The snow’s starting to pick up. You should get home.”

“Sorry I turned our tea into a research mission.” Saffron frowned. “I do appreciate the invitation though. Next time you come to town, stop by the cottage, and we’ll try again. Hopefully I can be a better hostess than I am a guest.”

“Not to worry. I’ll take you up on that. Now, you be careful out there on your way home.”

“Of course.”

“And you, little one.” He crouched down to rub Bear’s chin. “You keep a close eye on her, you hear?”

“He always does.”

When she had her coat and boats back on, Bear jumped up to her shoulder, and she said her goodbyes to Mister Payton. The snow had picked up, but the wind was light, and the ground underfoot was not yet slick with fresh-fallen snow. She walked easily along the path, with Bear’s warmth seeping through her shoulders, and wondered how she might find a lost cemetery.

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