3 min read

Chapter 27: A Royal Audience

Saffron and Bear have another conversation with the Queen of the Forest
An image of a porcupine is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 27: A Royal Audience"

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Although the snow had melted almost everywhere else, deep in the woods a few patches still persisted in the cooler air under the thick canopy of trees. Saffron easily avoided these as she wended her way through the forest, having strayed from the path shortly after she entered the woods. Ever since the forest’s transformation, she hated walking on that strange, unfamiliar road. She always left it as soon as she could to go wandering between the trees.

On this particular day in late winter, she was looking for someone. She didn’t know quite where to find her, but she knew it wouldn’t likely be on the path.

She made her way to a clearing she’s visited once before, one where stinging nettle grew. It was too early to harvest yet, but the clearing is where she was the last time she met the Queen.

Saffron hadn’t seen or heard from the Queen since their previous meeting. She didn’t know if she fulfilled the Queen’s request when she killed the beast and destroyed the poison, but it was time to get some answers.

The clearing was empty when she reached it. No sign of any creature, porcupine or otherwise.

“What do you think, boy?” she asked Bear.

Bear hopped up on a fallen log and began to clean his paws.

“Yeah, alright. We’ll wait and see.” Saffron sat on the log too, and together, they waited.

It was not a very warm day for waiting, and the more the wind nipped at Saffron’s ears, the more impatient she grew. She stood up again. She stretched. She paced. She sat back down. She stood back up.

“Hello!” she called out into the woods. No one answered.

“I would like to speak to the Queen!” she yelled. No one answered.

“I demand an audience with the Queen of the Forest!” she shouted. No one answered.

Saffron sat back down. Bear curled up on her lap, and she had no choice but to sit and wait. His warmth and his weight and the rumble of his purr were soothing, and Saffron’s agitation slowly faded into the weariness and frustration that had become her baseline.

A jay called from above. Bear chirped back at it.

“Hello?” Saffron shouted up to the bird. The jay cawed again.

“I’d like to speak to the Queen.”

“So I hear.” The Queen stood before her, quills fanning out around her face. “What brings you shouting into my Forest, Saffron the Witch?”

“Your Majesty.” Saffron quickly stood and ducked a curtsy. “I’m sorry for the intrusion.”

Bear jumped down from her lap as she stood, and pressed himself against the back of her legs, back arched, watching the Queen warily.

“No, you’re not.” The Queen’s dry voice sounded amused. “Or you wouldn’t be here. What do you want?”

“You came to me, before, and asked for my help. I did as you asked. I drove the poison out of the wood.”

The porcupine tilted her head. “Did you?”

“Yes.” Saffron gritted her teeth. “I destroyed the creature and eliminated the poison fungus. I did what you asked.”

“And yet the woods have changed. A danger lurks in the centre of the forest, nonetheless.”

“I know. That’s why I’m here. I’m asking for your help, this time. How can I stop this? How can I fix the forest?”

The Queen stared at Saffron for a long moment. The only sound was her quiet snuffling. “You have everything you need. Help will come, when the time is right.”

She turned around and began to shuffle away toward the bushes.

“Wait!” Saffron called after her. “Do you know where Emerald Cemetery is?”

“Yes,” the Queen answered without pausing, “and so do you.”

What did that mean? Had she seen the cemetery before and forgotten? Or was the Queen simply confirming that Saffron’s suspicions were correct? She didn’t remember ever seeing a cemetery in the forest, so she guessed the latter. She’d suspected from the moment she first saw the cemetery in the map that it was hidden behind the walls Professor Burton had established around the house.

“How can I get there when it’s sealed off?” she asked.

“Fly over the fence.” The Queen walked into a bush and was gone, leaving a sputtering Saffron behind her.

“I can’t fly,” she muttered. She looked down at Bear. “Can you?”

He meowed.

“I didn’t think so.” She sighed and picked up her satchel. “I guess we’d better find someone who can.”

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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.