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Chapter 29: Family Reunion

Saffron and Sage visit their hometown
An image of a mortar and pestle is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 29: Family Reunion"

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“This hill isn’t as big as I remembered it,” Sage said as she and Saffron climbed together.

“No,” Saffron agreed. “I guess we were just smaller.”

Bear seemed to think the hill was plenty big; he had refused to walk up it and insisted on perching on Saffron’s shoulder.

It wasn’t just the hill: everything about the town where they grew up seemed smaller. Saffron would have sworn there had been more houses, that the market square had been bigger, and that there had been more people in the streets. But she hadn’t lived here in a decade and had barely been home in the past few years. Maybe the town had changed, or maybe it was her.

The one thing that hadn’t changed was the apple trees. They still lined either side of the main road leading up to the top of the hill. The scent of apple blossoms floated over them as they trudged up the hill. The smell always brought back memories: walking home from school, following her mother on her rounds, running with Sage and the other kids as they played hide and seek.

Their mother’s house perched as always at the top of the hill, and it was smaller than she remembered, too. Had a whole childhood really fit into such a small space? It was hard to believe.

“Ready?” she asked Sage as they reached the door, painted a happy shade of purple.

“Of course,” Sage said with a casual shrug. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

But Saffron saw the way she wiped her hands on her skirt.

Saffron knocked and a few moments later the door was flung open.

“My girls!” their mother gushed, grinning at them both.

“Hi mom, it’s good to see you.” Saffron hugged her mom. Bear hopped off her shoulder and twined around the older woman’s legs.

“You too, dear. And you, mister handsome. Here to eat all my fish again, are you?” Her mother bent to scratch his head.

“Hey, mom,” Sage said quietly.

“Sage.” Her mother’s voice had gone soft and Saffron took a step inside, taking off her shoes and cloak to give them an illusion of privacy, though she saw that her mother squeezed Sage just a little tighter than necessary. “I’m so happy you’re here.”

“Me too.”

It was Sage’s first trip home since she’d returned from the house. Although she’d written to their mom, she hadn’t made the journey last year, and it was just too difficult to travel in the winter. It was two days' ride by mail coach each way, and Saffron couldn’t leave town for that long at the hardest time of year. She hated even to leave it now, with the threat of whatever Professor Burton was doing lingering, but when Sage suggested they both make the trip she hadn’t been able to refuse.

Bear quickly made himself at home on a sunny windowsill, where he settled in for a thorough grooming to remove the dust of their travels.

Their mother had clearly been in the midst of sorting and preparing spell ingredients when they arrived; the table was covered in bundles of herbs both fresh and dried, seeds, stones, and candles. Saffron and Sage both sat down and set to work helping her. They tried to shoo her off to sit and rest while they worked, but she wasn’t having it.

“I’m not so old as that, girls,” she protested. “I still take care of this whole town by myself, you know.”

“Of course, mom, but you should let us help while we’re here,” Saffron insisted. “When was the last time you had a break?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have to look after the whole town alone. Maybe no one should,” Sage added with a pointed look at Saffron.

“It has been nice having Sage with me to help out this past year,” Saffron said. “And Alistair helping with so many repairs for us.”

“When do I get to meet this Alistair, anyway?” their mom asked.

“Don’t change the subject.” Sage brushed the question off. “Isn’t it about time for you to take on an apprentice?”

“The Academy did write to me about this year,” their mom admitted with a sigh. “Maybe next year.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” Saffron approved. “Wouldn’t it be great to have someone else to help out?”

“I’ve been looking after this town for over twenty-five years,” she said. “I’m not ready to pass it on yet.”

“Mom, you know that’s not how it works. An apprenticeship will take a few years, and then you’ll work together until you’re ready to retire. Some witches work for years after their apprentice is done training.”

“I know. It still feels like defeat, though.”

“Just think about it,” Sage urged her. “Besides, if you had an apprentice, then you’d have time to come visit us and meet Alistair.”

The conversation turned to lighter topics then. Saffron’s hands were busy with the familiar tasks and her mind busy with the conversation. The sun streamed in on her back and her best friend purred on his ledge nearby. For a little while, her worries dropped away and she enjoyed a few moments of peace for as long as it would last.

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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.