The Help of an Angel
Cora’s eyelids are stuck together. She drags them open and inhales deeply. The room around her bends and dips and she shuts her eyes again, horrified at the sight. Her stomach flips and she struggles to hold back her vomit. She moans.
“You’re finally awake.”
Cora’s mind struggles to understand what happened, but the pain shooting through her skull largely slows the process. How did she become so sick? Where’s Papa? That isn’t his voice. She says nothing as she pieces together the events behind her slumber. She remembers walking down the mountain trail in the darkness, but the rest is a tad uncertain. Did I fall and hit my head? Did someone from Atherton find me? Her tongue is bone dry and sits awkwardly in her mouth. Why am I so thirsty?
Something cold suddenly touches her hand and she jerks in surprise.
“You should have some water,” the voice says.
She takes a deep breath before opening one eye. She hazily sees that the thing touching her hand is a green bottle filled with clear liquid that she assumes is water. Her eyeball feels as if it is set in sand, and it almost hurts to look up. When she does, a face blurs into focus, drifting somewhere above her. It’s Adam. Adam Spruce. What is he doing here? Indeed, where is “here?”
“Do you remember anything about last night?” he asks her.
Cora painfully shakes her head. He nods in understanding and slides the bottle into her hand. She slowly lifts it to her lips and takes a few long, wonderful drinks. Though it isn’t spring water, it’s cold and refreshing just the same. Adam takes a seat in a chair next to the bed she’s lying in.
“You ran into town,” he informs her, “chased by a pack of wolves. One of them had bitten you. Anyway, you told me you had run away from your father and refused to marry Lucas. I wrapped up your wound and gave you some ale to calm you down—you were quite overcome—but I’m afraid I let you drink a little too much. I didn’t think about how easily and sharply it could affect you. For that I’m sorry.”
Cora glances away, images flashing in her mind. “I do remember a bit of it now,” she says.
She remembers until she was in Adam’s arms, unconscious. She remembers being the reason the wolves attacked the town. She remembers vomiting in front of half the town of Hale. As she relives the experiences mentally, her stomach lurches. She bites her lip hard, fiercely determined not to embarrass herself further.
But of course, her stomach has other plans. She glances around quickly and Adam notices the problem and has seemingly planned for it. He holds a bucket up for her to retch into, and she does, violently. Finally, gasping and exhausted, Cora falls back onto the pillow. She covers her face with her hands.
“I’m sorry,” she whisper, weeping pathetically.
“It’s all right,” Adam says.
“No it isn’t,” she says, and lets herself cry for a few minutes.
Adam sits in silence. She guesses he’s observing her pitiful performance, so she tries to stop and lowers her hands. Her nose and throat burn from the retching, her eyes from the dreadfully bright sunshine.
“I must be so repulsive to you,” she says. I’m repulsive to myself.
“You aren’t. You never have been,” he says kindly.
She almost smiles, but even as her lips remain still, she feels it blossom in her chest.
“Well, you have a very good heart then,” she concludes, “being here with me when you could be elsewhere. I appreciate it,” she tells him. Then something occurs to her. “Where are we?” she asks.
The room is small, square, and very basic. The only furniture in the room is the bed Cora is lying in, an end table, the chair Adam’s sitting on, and an additional chair and table tucked in the far left corner across from the door. A satchel lies open on the table, and an old blanket sags off the chair. There’s a window in the wall to her left, but all Cora sees out of it is clear, blue sky. She notices her bow and quiver resting against the wall below the window.
“At the inn,” Adam says.
She stares at the blanket nearly falling off the chair. “Were you here all night?”
“Yes,” he answers, then quickly adds, “Well I had to ensure you’d have someone you knew nearby in the morning, in case you didn’t remember where you were. I was right.”
“You shouldn’t have stayed,” she says, embarrassed, though she’s eternally grateful he did. Why would he do so much for her when she had never done anything but cause trouble for him?
“I’m glad I did. You wouldn’t have had any idea where you were or how to get back to Atherton.”
Cora eyes him sharply. “Get back? I’m not going back,” she declares.
He looks surprised. “You said last night that you wanted your father. I assumed that you’d want to go back.”
“No, I can’t. He might not even let me back yet. I have to just...”
Cora loses her thought. She hates it when that happens. She rubs her temples. She doesn’t know what she was going to say because she doesn’t know what she’s going to do. She ran away with absolutely no plan about where she was going to live, how she was going to pay for things, or anything. She just ran.
“Oh, I’m such a fool,” she hisses, more to herself than to Adam.
“Why did you leave?” he wonders.
“I couldn’t stand it anymore,” she says simply.
“My father didn’t talk to me or even look at me for weeks. Our relationship was so damaged after I hurt Lucas.”
“Oh,” Adam answers, nudging the bucket back behind the end table with his foot. The scraping sound it makes on the ground stings her ears. “Would he not accept your apology?”
Cora stops, and her heart almost does too. What apology? She realizes with sinking dread that she never did apologize. She rubs the tip of her tongue back and forth against the ridges of her teeth, guilt tearing at her.
“No,” she says, not wanting to tell him the truth and be truly despicable in his eyes. “He didn’t accept it.”
His mouth slants. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugs. “It wasn’t your fault,” she says, though it was, in part. She had run away because she’d wanted to see him again. She wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t first arrived in the forest that morning a few weeks ago.
“What now? What are you going to do?” he inquires after a moment.
She looks straight into his eyes. “I have no idea,” she says.
He knows those words. He spoke them himself a few weeks ago at the dining table in her house. He must know what it feels like to have no plans except one—to get away. Their eyes hold for a short moment, then he blinks and smiles.
“I know what that feels like,” he says, then stands. “I have a few plans now, but I’ll need a little time to think them over.”
“You will? I assumed you liked to act without thinking,” Coraleth replies, amused.
Adam gnaws on the side of his lip. “I do,” he replies. Behind his dark eyes she can see his mind working. Then his face breaks out into a smile. “You’re right. Let’s not make plans.” He kneels next to the bed so he’s eye-level with her. The closeness sends Cora’s heart racing. “Tomorrow at dawn, when you’re feeling better, let’s take a trip to Bannerford.”
Coraleth smiles, her heart racing with excitement at the thought. “Bannerford? That’s far away.”
“Not terribly. We’ll take a couple of horses and ride out, sleep in the hills. Bannerford is the largest and most beautiful city in Tempesco. It’s my favourite place to visit. What do you say?”
Coraleth smiles again. I must be crazy.
“That sounds perfect. Tomorrow.”
He grins and rises, then gathers his satchel and blanket from the table. “I’ll go home now and gather the things we’ll need.”
“Is that a new satchel?” Coraleth wonders.
“Yes. I couldn’t get the smell of rotting partridge out of the other one.”
Coraleth laughs as he swings the satchel over his shoulder and fidgets with the flap.
“It must be nice to be able to afford new things all the time,” she muses, watching him.
“I didn’t buy the new one. I made it,” he informs her.
“Oh;” she says, surprised, “it’s nice. Good work.”
He smiles. “Thank you.” Then he drapes the blanket over his arm and walks to the door. “I’ll return in a few hours with some food.”
“Don’t bother. I can get it myself.”
He walks to her and drops a few coins on the end table.
“Just get everything ready,” she continues. “If I wasn’t so sore, I’d want to leave this minute. I can hardly wait until tomorrow.”
He smiles again, obviously pleased by her enthusiasm. He has such a lovely smile.
“If you feel better this afternoon, we’ll go early. Bannerford is a good two days’ ride, all the way across the plains and up into the Brier Marsh Mountains on the other side. For now, though, just rest.”
“Thank you,” she says genuinely, “for everything.” How in Herus’ name did I manage to find you, Adam Spruce?
With a last quick smile, he leaves and softly closes the door behind him.