3 min read

Chapter 5: The Queen of the Forest

Saffron receives a special message
A background image of a castle is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 5: The Queen of the Forest"

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On a cloudy day in May, Saffron tended her herb garden. She pulled up weeds and prepared the beds for planting, turning the rich, dark soil over with a trowel. When she was done, she sat back on her heels to admire her finished work. A ladybug crawling across a rock at the edge of the garden turned to her and said, “The Queen of the Forest is coming.”

Once her tools were put away, she walked through the woods to check on her animal friends. Bear paced at her side, his grey fur sleek now that he’d shed his winter coat. They had almost reached the bat cave when a cricket crossed their path and chirped, “The Queen of the Forest is coming.”

After lunch, they went into town to stop at the market. Saffron loaded her satchel with bread and cheese and eggs to take back to the cottage. Bear rode on her shoulder as they made their way through the cobbled streets. A blackfly paused by her ear and mumbled, “the Queen of the Forest is coming.”

She stopped to check on Meg and Henry. They invited her in for tea, and Henry spoiled Bear with a few bites of leftover fish. They shared all of the town’s news and gossip along with their tea and scones. As Saffron was lacing her boots back on, a spider in the corner whispered, “The Queen of the Forest is coming.”

On their way home, Saffron paused at the little bridge that crossed the stream. She leaned her elbows on the railing and Bear sat next to her, his warm side pressed against her shoulder. They admired the view: the deep blue brook babbling in front of her, the meadow where wildflowers were just starting to bloom, the dark trees of the forest swaying in the wind. A passing bumblebee buzzed, “The Queen of the Forest is coming.”

After dinner, she sat near the fire with a quilt on her lap and a book in her hand. She was reading the recipe for a new potion to soothe inflammation when Bear jumped down from the chair to stare at something on the floor. Following his gaze, Saffron saw an ant crossing the room. It looked back at her and said, “The Queen of the Forest is coming.”

“Who is the Queen of the Forest and why is she coming?”

The ant didn’t answer.

“Do you know what they mean?” she asked Bear. He blinked slowly at her in response.

He ate the ant.

The next day, Saffron went into the woods to gather herbs. She found a large patch of stinging nettle and stopped to collect as much as she could. It was a pain to harvest, but good for eating and for treating joint pain. She worked carefully, wearing gloves to protect her hands, and snipped the fragrant stems.

Bear watched with interest at first, but soon grew bored and found a sunbeam to laze in, flopped on one side with his paws stretched out in front of him.

Saffron’s satchel slowly filled up with the stinging plant and she was almost ready to wrap up for the day when a susurration of wings stirred around her. It sounded as though every bird in the forest took to flight at once.

“The Queen!” chirped a starling.

“The Queen!” croaked a crow.

“The Queen!” sang a robin.

“The Queen!” tweeted a chickadee.

“The Queen!” trilled a sparrow.

“The Queen! The Queen! The Queen!” every bird said, surrounding Saffron in a wall of noise. Bear was on his paws now, hackles raised and teeth bared.

Everything fell silent.

Saffron froze.

There was a soft snuffling behind her. She turned only her head, as slowly as she could.

A porcupine approached.

Saffron turned the rest of her body, still slowly, slowly. She didn’t want to startle the animal. Bear was less concerned. His fright from a moment before had melted away, and he prostrated himself in front of the porcupine.

“Saffron,” she said. Her voice was the rustling of delicate old parchment. It was the voice of a Queen.

“Your Majesty.” Saffron curtsied as low as she knew how.

“It is coming.”

A spike of fear drove through her heart. “What’s coming?”

“You have to stop it.”

She frowned. “Stop what?”

“The Forest depends on you.”

“I will always protect the Forest. But what--”

“Find the centre and you will know.”

The porcupine turned and trundled away until it disappeared back into the bushes. Saffron stared after her as sound slowly returned to the forest around them: the wind, the birds, the insects, resuming their usual patterns.

“What was that about?” she asked Bear.

He licked his paws and didn’t answer.

“Some help you are,” Saffron grumbled, but she scratched his head affectionately before returning her attention to the nettle patch.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, and literary stories. You can find her on twitter or instagram.