Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

All Rights Reserved ©

Doubt

When Coraleth walks into the front door, Papa is busily preparing the midday meal.

“Where were you for so long?” he wants to know. Then he looks at her arm. “And why aren’t you wearing your sling?”

“Oh, I...uh...took it off.”

“Well I can see that,” Papa says. “Why?”

“I...I was...climbing.”

His look darkens. “Climbing what?”

She shrugs as if it’s no big deal. The gesture itself sends a pang through her arm. “It’s nothing, Papa. I’ll get it later.”

“Where’s Adam?” he wonders, turning back to the pot of potatoes over the fire.

Cora uses this moment to quickly remove her bow and quiver from beneath her cloak and stash them behind the door.

“How should I know?” she asks as she casts her cloak over the chair.

“He left shortly after you did. Didn’t you see him?”

She takes a seat, unsettled by the strange tension between them. “Yes, I was with him for a little while, but I don’t know where he is now.”

Papa takes out a stack of wooden plates from the cupboard and sets them on the table. Then he unexpectedly takes a seat.

“Lucas is concerned,” he says.

She blinks at him, trying to understand where this is going. “About what?”

“You. He’s worried how this injury is affecting you.”

“Papa, it just happened this morning. I’m not totally over the shock of it yet,” she says.

“I know. He knows that too.”

“What is it then? He can’t just be thinking of that.”

Papa hesitates, then confesses, “He doesn’t like Adam Spruce very much.”

“Why not?”

Papa smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “You two are going to be married. He’s uncomfortable with you spending time alone with other men. Especially strangers.”

Cora shuts her eyes in repulsion to the accusation. “What? That’s lunacy. It’s just Adam. He isn’t a stranger anymore.”

“You hardly know anything about him.”

“Papa, you know I would never betray Lucas.”

“I know, but that doesn’t keep him from worrying for your safety and purity.”

Cora rolls her eyes dramatically. “Papa...” she moans, covering her warm cheeks with her hands.

He chuckles at her embarrassment. “It won’t seem so outrageous after you two are married.”

“Stop,” she begs, burying her head between her arms on the table.

“I’m just teasing, sweetheart.” Then he stills. “Just promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“Be careful with Adam. None of us know him. He just showed up here. That’s also ruffled Lucas’ feathers.”

“Does he do nothing else but worry?” she mutters, sighing in exasperation.

“Promise me, Cora-Mae,” he insists.

She raises her hand as if she’s taking a solemn oath. “I promise I won’t try to ruffle Lucas’ sensitive feathers,” she says with a thread of mockery.

Papa snorts. “Your devotion is touching,” he says dryly. “How did you meet Adam anyway? Was he just hunting in the forest?”

“We met in Hale, when I took Alexia to sell her jewellery. I never invited him here. I just mentioned that I sometimes hunt in the mornings. Then this morning I decided to hunt, and there he was,” Cora explains.

“That sounds awfully suspicious,” Papa warns, his bushy eyebrows lowering.

“So? Papa, I can’t work anymore. I need someone to talk to. Someone to spend some time with.”

“You can help me around the house, or with servicing the waterwheel, or clearing the streams,” he suggests.

Cora groans and leans her head back. She dislikes housework as much as she loves working at the sawmill.

“You know that’s different. And besides, you were the one who sent Adam after me earlier. I thought you wanted me to make friends.”

“I did nothing of the sort,” Papa protests. “Did he say I did?”

Coraleth hesitates, not wanting to make Adam look bad, but still not wanting to lie. She remains silent, focusing on the table rather than on Papa’s eyes. He went after me on his own.

Papa stands to get the forks. “I’m not happy with this, Cora-Mae. I think he should leave.”

“No,” she says too quickly, then hurriedly adds, “Why?”

When Papa looks at her again, his blue eyes are burning. “Because it’s upsetting your future husband.”

“Well, he shouldn’t be so sensitive. I’ve been friends with men all my life.”

“Please listen. He seems fine now, but we don’t know. Just be careful, all right? Don’t spend the whole day with him.” Then his eyebrows bob up and he raises a finger. “Get together with Alexia. I’m sure she’d like that, and it’d be good for you.”

Cora leans on her hand heavily. “I suppose.”

“You know that Lucas and I only warn you because we love you very much,” Papa says softly, touching her hand across the table.

“Yes, I know.”

He smiles, pleased. “Good. Now come. A few of the leather straps on the gear mechanism have worn thin. I’ll need your help to replace them, and we’ll have to do it one at a time so the wheel keeps turning. Otherwise, the men outside will get annoyed that their saw isn’t working.”

“Isn’t the meal ready?” Cora asks, standing with him.

“Of course it is, but it’s another hour before the men quit working.”

“Oh.”

“You didn’t really think it took me all morning to boil a few potatoes, did you?”

“No...I mean...I guess not...” She’d never really thought about it.

He laughs and kisses her head, then leads her over to the curtain that sections off the gear mechanism of the waterwheel from the rest of the house. He draws it back, revealing the big round gears and the different pulleys and weights that keep the waterwheel moving, and they get right to work.

“About Lucas,” Papa says as they work. “Are you totally sure about marrying him? Do you honestly want to?”

Cora sighs. Do I lie to please him, or tell the truth and risk breaking both his and Lucas’ heart? She decides that her father’s happiness means more to her than her own silly uncertainty.

“Yes, Papa. He’s the perfect man for me. I have no doubt he’ll make me very happy.”

The words feel like gravel falling out of her mouth, but Papa’s smile is calming.

“Then I completely support you,” he replies.

Almost exactly an hour later, Papa pulls the curtain back around the mechanism and wipes his hands on a cloth.

“You can call the men in, if you want,” he tells Coraleth.

She nods and walks to the door. Popping her head out, she says, “The food is ready,” and gets a few grunts of acknowledgement.

After a quick survey of the men working, She notices that Lucas is missing. She first thinks he’s driving the wagon out to the cliffs, but the wagon at the end of the sawmill platform is sitting there, and Terrence Long is driving it. He’s not debarking either. So where is he?

She decides to find out, and steps outside. Gideon is working at the saw itself, finishing one last log before coming in. Other men file past her.

“Have you seen Lucas?” she asks Gideon.

“Well that newcomer came to give you back something for your arm, and Lucas told him to go back to the woods, then followed him.” He gestures with his black beard to the forest. “That was about a half-hour ago, now.”

The blood drains from her face. What did Lucas do to him that is taking so long?

“Thanks, Gideon,” she says, then runs in the direction he gestured.

Cora’s mind is racing with the worst possibilities. Would Lucas have hurt Adam just for spending time with her? She’s never had a man love her like this before, so she doesn’t know what they’re capable of. Even Lucas, whom she’s known all her life. How can people live like this?

She stops when she sees Adam striding toward her, an odd, neutral expression on his face. He glances at her only once, then looks away and continues walking. His face doesn’t look beaten up, but then again, that was one of the worst possibilities.

“Where’s Lucas?” she wonders, not knowing what else to say. It seems as if she knows him better than she actually does. That trip this morning altered their relationship.

Adam doesn’t answer. He walks right by her without a word.

Cora turns, annoyed. “Hey!” she shouts at his receding back. “What happened?”

“Cora,” she hears behind her. Lucas appears down the trail.

She walks up to him, periodically checking back to see if Adam is still walking away.

“What’s going on? What happened?” she asks Lucas.

He glares over her head at Adam.

“Nothing,” he says through tight lips.

She hits his arm. “I know you better than that,” she reminds him angrily. “Now tell me what you said to him.”

His eyes meet Cora’s with a look of mingled frustration and pain.

“I told him to stay away from my future wife, and he...” Rage begins to boil in his green eyes. “He said ‘no.’”

Her mouth goes dry. “He said ‘no’?” she repeats.

“He told me that he has no intention of hurting you, taking you away, or upsetting you. He only wants one chance to ‘win your heart.’” His lips curl in disgust and her heart drops. “He said he has as much right to you as I do. That you might still change your mind.”

Cora shuts her eyes, tossed in a sea of her own emotions. Then her eyes pop open and she looks up at him again, her stomach dropping.

“What did you do?” When his eyebrows lower, she presses him. “You know what I mean. At such a declaration, you might have slaughtered him, but he looked fine, so what did you do?”

His eyes do not waver. They watch hers with a startling expression she’s never seen on him before.

“I just reinforced the injury you dealt him this morning,” he says evenly. “I told him that he should have some respect for you and leave. I told him that, if he ever speaks to you again, I’ll kill him.”

Cora stares at him, an image coming to her mind. When Adam walked by her, he was holding his shoulder. Lucas must have hit his wound, or something like that. She aches when she think of it. She doesn’t want to react too strongly, though, so she must force herself to be calm. Reacting could make Lucas think she cares too much about Adam. Which she’s not even sure if she does.

“You didn’t have to be so harsh,” she says, trying to be light. “I did just meet him yesterday. I’ve known you all my life.”

Her words were meant to reassure him, but they seem to have only grated his anger further. He towers over, face twisted.

“Didn’t you hear me? He basically proclaimed his love for you! Don’t you know what this means?”

“No, I don’t, but I’m trying, Lucas. Explain to me what this means,” she pleads, gripping his hands.

She can’t let him see her own rising anger, but masking it is getting terribly difficult. His love? That’s just lunacy!

“I’ll lose you. I’ve just gotten you and I’ll lose you. I’ll lose you to a complete stranger, Cora.”

“How? What would make me leave you for a stranger?” she asks him, desperate to appeal to his logical side.

He shakes his head, and she is relieved to realize her words are breaking through. “I don’t know. He’s better looking, smarter. I don’t know.”

Cora knows what she must say, but she’s scared the words will sound as artificial as they feel: “I love you. I chose you, Lucas. Remember? I’m marrying you.”

They should be so full of emotion that they burst out and fill the air with peace, but they hang stagnant in the air, toxic to her. She chokes on them, stabbed through with guilt. The longer she considers the two of them marrying, the more loathsome the thought is. However, she did only agree to it this morning, only a few hours ago. She hasn’t given herself enough time to comprehend the whole of it, to process it properly. But this situation is not helping.

Lucas leans against a tree and stares off in the direction Adam disappeared. The anger is dissipating from his bright eyes. “I still hate him,” he grumbles.

“Hate is a waste of energy,” Cora says. She wishes she could tell him that he totally over-reacted. She wishes she could say how repulsive his anger is. She wishes she could go back to the way things used to feel between them. But she can’t. She can’t do any of that. The loss of that past friendship and the peace that accompanied it makes her ache inside.

“Well it’s how I’ll waste my energy then.”

Cora wants to roll her eyes, but she doesn’t. He’s acting like a petulant child.

“Are you going to come to Sawmill Cabin for some food, or do you want to stay out here for awhile?” And sulk.

“No, I’ll come. I just want to clear my head.”

She nods. “Fine,” she says, and turns.

He reaches for her arm and pulls her to him. A soft smile graces his features, such a welcome change.

“You love me,” he echoes.

Did she really say that?

“Yes,” she says.

She hates the thing that cloaks her, this mask, this facade. She hates lying to his face. But now she’s drowning in lies and there’s no way out that won’t hurt everyone.

He kisses her again, and she wonders how long it will be until she enjoys his kisses. When he pulls away, he says, “I know you chose me. It’ll take time for her to grasp that thought.”

Me too, Cora thinks glumly.

He wraps his arms around her and holds her against him. “I spent so long hoping you would.”

As he embraces her, Cora peers over his shoulder at the trail back to the cabin, and thinks she catches sight of a figure walking away. It’s so hard to be with Lucas like this, when she knows it’s dishonest to him. He’s so infatuated, and she’s so aloof. It isn’t the least bit fair to him. She lets the face and person of Adam Spruce slither out of her mind and focuses on Lucas. He’s what matters now, and it’d be best for her to forget Adam and everything about him.

But one piece of her heart can’t bear to let go of that moment she embraced him, with the wind whipping through her hair and her heart nearly stopping with excitement. When he wanted to share with her the beauty of danger and the purpose it gives—that the most important knowledge can only come through exploration, and that in exploration, there is always risk. But in such risk, there is heart-stopping, breathtaking, mind-bursting joy, and that is always worth it.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.