4 min read

Chapter 30: Old Friend

Saffron encounters an old friend in the forest
An image of a stream in the woods is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 30: Old Friend"

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As the gentle greens and pastel florals of spring brightened into the riotous colours of summer, Saffron grew into the habit of taking a long ramble through the woods as often as she could. She’d always spent a lot of time in the forest, but that summer she spent every minute she could spare out walking the woods.

It was easier to slip away now than it had been before, with Sage helping so much at home, not to mention the peace of mind knowing that if there was an emergency, the townsfolk still had a witch close at hand.

And the weather was perfect for it, and Sage had been telling her to take time for herself, and Bear certainly wasn’t going to complain about more time to chase after the birds and the squirrels.

It certainly didn’t have anything to do with the house at the centre of the forest, or the cemetery that lurked somewhere behind it, or the professor who lived in the middle of it all.

Her long expeditions foraging for mushrooms didn’t have anything to do with combing the ground for any signs of the poisonous purple fungus.

Certainly not.

She was just enjoying a beautiful day.

Strengthening her connection with nature.

Spending some quality time with Bear.

Of course.

On one particularly sunny day, she paused in her wandering to sit by the stream, cooling her toes in the chilly water. Bear watched a school of minnows darting amongst the foliage at the bank of the stream, one paw raised to strike. Saffron was picking at the biscuit and berries she’d carried with her for lunch when a branch broke behind her.

She swivelled around to see what was there, but before she could stand, the new arrival flicked her hand in a calming motion.

“Sit, sit, Saffron, dear,” Professor Burton said, coming to stand beside her. “No need to make a fuss.”

But Saffron was already on her feet by then. “What are you doing here?”

“Same as you.” The older woman kicked off her shoes and lowered herself onto the bank. “Cooling my feet on a hot day.”

“It’s a long stream,” Saffron said. “Plenty of places to sit.”

“This one has the best company. You remember, we used to take our lessons outside on days like this? There was that little pond in the clearing behind the Academy–”

“What do you want?” Saffron was not in the mood for reminiscing, not those tainted memories.

“I want to have a conversation with my favourite pupil.”

“Fine.” Saffron sat back down, legs crossed, not dangling in the stream any more. “You want a conversation, then talk. Why are you doing this?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“You came into my territory and endangered my people and changed my forest around. You made it my business.”

“I haven’t endangered anyone. What happened at that house before had nothing to do with me, I promise you.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I have my reasons.” The Professor stared into the water. “I’m just looking for something personal, Saffron. I’m not looking for trouble. I’ve been keeping quiet in that house, haven’t I?”

“What are you looking for? Sage already gave you the Crown.”

“Yes, and it’s been very helpful. But the Crown only works when I have something to use it on.”

“That enormous house wasn’t enough? The whole forest?”

“No. I’d trade it all if I could get back what I really want.”

“And what is that?”

The professor ran a hand through her hair, but didn’t answer.

“Let me help you,” Saffron said. “Let me help you find what you really want, and you give me my forest back, and we both move on.”

“I can’t do that, Saffron. I’m sorry.”

“What about the house’s original owners?”

“I see you’ve become quite good friends with one of them.”

“And where are the rest? Where is Alistair’s family? Do you have them locked up somewhere?”

“I told you, Saffron, I’m not out to hurt anyone. They had to have changed back; that was the nature of the spell. But I can’t help you find them.”

“Can you at least change the forest back?”

The professor sighed. “It’s all part of the same spell. I can’t change the forest back until I change the house back, and I can’t do that until I find what I need.”

“This is pointless.” Saffron gathered her things and stood up. “If you change your mind and decide to accept some help, let me know.”

“Saffron, please–”

She didn’t stop to listen.

Her hands didn’t stop shaking until she was almost home. Her heart was still racing, but that may have been as much from the brisk walk as the anger. She came to a stop, leaning back against a tree, and waited for her breath to slow and calm back to a normal rate, but once she stopped moving things seemed to get worse, not better.

Saffron slid to the ground and buried her face in her hands, letting the anger melt into sadness and her heavy breaths change to sobs. For the first time, she realized that she wasn’t just upset about the forest or the house or what Professor Burton might have planned. She was upset that her friend had betrayed her.

She’d wanted to sit and enjoy the stream with her old mentor, but she knew she couldn’t trust her any more. She hadn’t realized, or maybe she just hadn’t let herself realize, how much that hurt until now.

Bear caught up to her and twined himself around her legs as she cried. When her tears dried up and her heart returned to normal, he stood and rubbed his face against her cheek.

“Thank you, my friend.” Saffron buried her fingers in his soft fur. “At least I can always count on you.”

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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.