5 min read

Chapter 33: Family Secrets

A new face emerges from the forest with news from Professor Burton
An image of a cemetery is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 33: Family Secrets"

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The summer heat finally eased into cooler mornings, but the afternoons remained golden and warm. Saffron was hanging out the wash on one such day when a woman she didn’t know stumbled out of the forest and called to her by name.

“Saffron!” she yelled, and fell to her knees in front of the cottage.

Bear reached the woman first, snuffling her face as she took heaving breaths of air. Saffron was only a few steps behind him.

“Are you alright?” she asked, gently placing a hand on the woman’s back.

“She found him.” The woman looked straight at her, blue eyes sharp and piercing, speaking between gasps. “She’s finally found him.”

“Who?” Saffron sat back on her heels. “What’s happening?”

“The Professor. She found his grave.”

Saffron’s head spun. She had jumped into action for a medical emergency, not a game of twenty questions. “Whose grave?”

“Her husband. My brother.”

“Your brother? Who are you?”

She seemed to be recovering now, her breath slowly returning to a normal rhythm. “My name is Adela. I lived in the forest with my husband and children. I grew up there.”

Saffron gasped as everything fell into place. “You’re Alistair’s mother!”


“We have to let him know you’re alright. Where have you been? He’s never stopped looking for you.”

The woman’s eyes shimmered with tears. “I know. He’s such a good boy. I could get glimpses of him sometimes when I tried to use my magic. Is he here?”

“No, but I can fix that.” Sage and Alistair were in town at the market, but it wouldn’t take them long to get home if they were called.

Saffron pulled a smooth stone from her pocket. It fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. She had engraved it with tiny rows of sigils, and now she lifted it to her mouth. “Sage. You need to come home. It’s Alistair’s mother. She’s here.”

She didn’t get a response from Sage, but she had no doubt they would arrive in short order.

“They should be here soon,” she assured Adela, “but in the meantime, let’s make you comfortable. You looked exhausted when you arrived, are you alright?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “It was just a long way to run, and I haven’t had to do that in quite a long time.”

“How about you come in and have some refreshments, then? It would do you good.”

Saffron helped her up and escorted her into the cottage, where she settled her on the sofa. Bear hopped up beside her, and Adela obliged him with scritches while Saffron brought a cup of water and thick slices of bread and cheese. She put the kettle on for tea; she expected they would all need it by the time this conversation was over.

She had a thousand more questions, but she held them back, knowing they would only have to go over everything again when Alistair arrived.

It was only a few minutes later when the door banged open.

“Mum?” Alistair rushed to her side. “It really is you. Thank the stars!”

The two embraced. Sage arrived a moment later, and after taking in the scene she looked a question at Saffron, who could only shrug in response.

“Are you okay?” Alistair finally asked. “Come, sit, sit.”

He coaxed his mother back to the sofa and took a place beside her, making sure she had enough food and water before finally opening the floodgate of questions. Bear stepped across him to resume his attentions to Adela.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I never stopped looking.”

“I know, sweetheart.” His mother covered his hand with hers. “I’ve been trapped. Back at the house. We all were, except you.”

“Dad? And Josie?”

“They’re fine. Still there, but fine.”

“I don’t understand. When the house burnt down,” he shot a quick glance at Saffron, “I was freed from the curse. Half-freed, anyway. Have you been down there all that time?”

“No. Only since she restored the forest, last fall. I don’t know why you were freed before the rest of us, but we maintained our animal shapes after the house was gone. It was only after she reset everything that we resumed our true shapes. But we were returned to the house at the same time, and she’s kept us imprisoned there ever since.”

“But why? What has she done to you?”

My brother Everett died young, leaving behind his widow, Professor Burton.”

“Very little.” Adela shook her head. “She’s never harmed us. It’s just the constant questioning. Always, about Everett and where he’s buried. The cemetery. She’s been looking for it this whole time, for his grave.”

“Everett?” Saffron broke in. “Who is he?”

“My brother, Everett. He died young, in his twenties, in a boating accident. Our parents were gone by then. Probably the only ones who remember him are me and his widow, your Professor Burton.”

“Professor Burton was married to your brother?” Saffron looked from Adela to Alistair. “Then that makes her your aunt.”

“I don’t remember her,” Alistair said with a shrug. “I barely remember my Uncle. I had no idea she was family, but that does explain some things.”

“It’s true,” Adela said. “After Everett died she went to teach at the Academy. We lost contact with her after that. But now she’s back, and apparently she never forgot Everett, because she’s been obsessed with finding his grave.”

Witches and warlocks kept the locations of their bodies secret and warded, to keep their magic safe from corruption after death. Saffron was a little surprised that Professor Burton wouldn’t know the location of her own husband, but since he was buried in a family plot full of magical ancestors, even she must not have known.

“She’s been probing our minds, looking for answers. Josephine and your father never knew, luckily, and I was able to keep her out of my head for a long time. But eventually she found a way around my wards and now she knows. She’s found him.”

“How did you escape?”

“In her moment of triumph, she was distracted. I was able to slip away. I tried to get the others out, but by then she realized what had happened and it was all I could do to get away. I had to come warn you.”

“What happens now?” Saffron cut in, asking the question she didn’t want to ask, the one she was afraid to hear the answer to. “What will she do with his body?”

Sage put a hand on her shoulder. “You know, Saffron. There’s only one thing that makes sense. I know neither of us want to believe she could do it, but…”

“She’s going to bring him back,” Adela affirmed. “She’s going to use the crown to bring him back from the dead.”

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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.