Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

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Over the Edge

Determined, Cora rises off the bed and walks downstairs, on her way to check if her clothes are dry yet. As she approaches the staircase leading down into the basement, she hears a shriek from the kitchen. She flies down the stairs as quickly as she can without falling. When she reaches the kitchen, the bright orange of fire leaps onto her vision and her eyes focus on Rain dunking something in the water well. Sweat glistens on her little oval face.

She looks up at Cora with massive, fearful eyes. “I just brushed against the rack and the whole of it fell into the fireplace,” she stammers out, voice quivering.

“What happened?” Cora asks, approaching her.

In reply, Rain lifts out Cora’s shirt, trousers, and thin undergarments from the water. In the torchlight, Cora sees the gaping, blackened holes riddling the cloth. The pieces are all totally ruined. She frowns, dismayed at the loss.

“I’ll have to find something else to wear, then,” she muses.

“I’m so sorry, Coraleth. I really didn’t mean to,” Rain blabbers, on the verge of tears.

Cora smiles at her, hoping to offer reassurance. “It’s all right, Rain. I’ll just buy some new clothes or borrow them from someone. Don’t fret.”

Rain strokes her thumb over a singed hole. “Such good cloth too. Did you have it long?”

“Yes, actually. I have very few pieces of clothing back home. I didn’t really have a need for more, until now, of course.” She laughs, hoping to lighten the mood.

Rain laughs too, but it lacks sincerity. “Yes, well. I truly am sorry.”

“I know you are, and I forgive you. It was an accident.” She fishes the burned clothing from the water and wrings it out. Then she rips through the holes until the shirt is nothing but a damp pile of frayed cloth in her hands. “Use the scraps to scrub dishes or bind wounds. I’ve bound a few with shirt strips.” She hands Rain the cloth.

Rain piles it on the counter. “Thanks,” she says, then suddenly rushes to the cupboard. “Here, I’ll give you some gold to buy new clothes.”

“No no, that’s quite all right. Adam gave me some earlier that I haven’t used yet. If I could take some food upstairs, though, I’d appreciate it.”

“Yes, of course. Certainly.” Rain disappears into the storage room and reappears with a small wrapped thing. After fiddling around at the fireplace and the counters for a few moment longer, she turns to Cora, holding a tray filled with food in her hands. “Take this.”

“So much? Are you sure I can?”

Her stomach growls at the sight of the little wedges of cheese, pile of grilled leeks, and the slices of seasoned potatoes. There are other things on the tray, but many are wrapped in parchment or cloth.

Rain pushes the tray into her hands. “I insist. Go up right now.”

Cora smiles as she takes it. “Thank you,” she says, and turns away.

“Oh wait!” Rain calls, and slips a long, covered object onto her tray. With a finger to her lips, she whispers, “Don’t show this to anyone. Go straight up to your room.”

Coraleth obeys and feels almost guilty as she walks up the second staircase. In her room, she lays the tray on the table and quickly closes the door. Eager to discover what could be inside these mysterious packages, she ravages the tray. One of the wrapped things is a small piece of goat cheese. Another is a bunch of crisp, blue grapes. She discovers dried strips of salted pork wrapped in cabbage leaves, some kind of round, purple fruit about the size of her fist, fresh, warm bread, and, the final object she placed on her tray, a slender bottle of fine honeyed mead. She uncorks the top and takes a sip. It tastes like something a countess would drink.

Cora eats all she can of the delicious feast, but, when she’s almost finished, she’s hardly finished half of the food she was given. She pops one of the grapes in her mouth and wipe her hands of bread crumbs when a knock sounds at her door.


Adam pokes his head in, a smile on his bronze face. “I thought I’d check in to see how you were feeling,” he says.

“Come and sit down,” she invites him, and he obliges, shutting the door softly behind him.

Taking a seat, he surveys the half-eaten feast. “This is quite the spread,” he comments.

“Yes. The girl downstairs felt bad for accidentally burning my clothes, so she made up for it in food. It’s not a bad way to get into my good graces, not that she wasn’t already in my good graces,” she adds quickly. She lifts a plate to him. “Hungry?”

“May I?”

“Of course! Have all you want.”

He takes a bite of the pork wrapped in cabbage. “Delicious,” he says with his cheek full. Then his eyebrows drop low over his eyes. He swallows before asking, “Did you say the girl downstairs burned your clothes?”

Cora laughs once and takes a bite of one of the strange purple fruits. The sweet, slightly tart flavour is a pleasant relief from the salty food she’s consumed. She wipes her lips of its juice. “Yes. Her name is Rain. She knocked against the rack my clothes were drying on and it fell into the fire. It wasn’t her fault.”

“So you’ll need to get new clothes,” Adam concludes.

She nods. “Indeed I will, and I can’t wear your sister’s skirts anymore. These terrible things are a pain, especially when walking up stairs. I long to be back in a pair of trousers.” She sighs, wistful.

“Well, I doubt you’ll find any clothiers in Hale who sell trousers for women,” Adam says with a laugh. He takes a generous bite of grilled leek.

“I wear men’s trousers anyway. Lucas’ mother gave me a few pairs of his when I first began working. I had to roll up the bottoms so I wouldn’t trip over them, and fold the waist over almost halfway. Eventually I grew into them.” Those first days working at the mill were once some of the fondest memories Cora had, but now they’re terribly bittersweet. She shakes her head, trying to clear them away. “I’ll just buy some men’s trousers and another shirt.”

He smiles sadly and swallows. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better. That bath earlier really helped, and this food plate helped too. I’ll be ready to leave whenever you are.”

Cora watches his face carefully for any reaction. He doesn’t say anything. His eyes are just focused on the rim of her mead bottle. She’s suddenly struck with the fear that he might be having second thoughts about taking her along on the trip.

“I’m glad you met Milo. I hope she didn’t say anything...odd about me,” he finally says.

She laughs. “What do you mean?”

He shrugs and picks up another cabbage-wrapped pork slice. “Nothing.”

“Did you talk to her recently?”

“Briefly. She told me a bit about what you two discussed, about Father moving to Atherton.”

“And what do you think?”

“I think I get my discontented spirit from somewhere, and he has certainly been discontented with the state of the smith. He’s a creature of habit, though, and might need time to consider something as big as leaving Hale.”

“You didn’t need time,” she reminds him.

“I had other reasons to go,” he says, his eyes sparkling as they hold her gaze. She takes another swig of the mead bottle to settle the flip of her stomach. He looks away, a hesitant smile on his lips.

Is he...nervous?

“So,” she says, desperate to keep the conversation going, “what do you think of Milo and Rain coming with us?”

He lifts one shoulder. “I think it’s a good idea. They both could use a little adventure like this.” His tone changes. “I was a little surprised that you suggested it, though.”


He sticks the last of the cabbage wrap into his mouth and brushes off his hands. “No reason.”

Cora nods slowly, and wishes she could know what he’s thinking. “Right,” she says, unconvinced.

He offers more explanation. “I just thought you wanted as few people with us as possible.”

“Why would I want that?” she challenges.

“I thought you’d still be upset about what’s happened in recent weeks, that you wouldn’t want to be around many people. I’m surprised you’re even letting me come.” He smirks.

“Well I don’t know how to get there,” Cora says loftily.

“So the only reason I’m going is because I’m your guide,” he concludes.

She raises her eyebrows. “I suppose so,” she laughs. His look tells her he knows that isn’t true. He breaks off a piece of bread and spreads a bit of goat cheese on it. Cora swallows hard, her throat suddenly dry. “I’ve wanted to ask you about something for a while now,” she says hesitantly.

“Ask,” he encourages, then gobbles down the bread. “May I?” He gestures to the mead and Cora nods.

“See, Lucas told me you said something to him when you were in Atherton,” she begins, reluctant to actually say the words. She’s been pondering what to say for weeks, but now that she’s got an opportunity to actually speak with Adam, her tongue can’t seem to unravel itself. “It was something about...” She never imagined this would be so difficult. “Something about how you had a...a right...or something? I don’t know. He wasn’t making a lot of sense.” She knows it’s wrong to tell half-truths, but she really can’t get the words out of her mouth. What will he say? How will he react if she tells him the whole truth?

He smiles at her discomfort. “I think he was making perfect sense to you,” he says lowly. “Wasn’t he?”

Cora blushes and wants to turn away, but she’s unable to take her eyes from his. “Well...I...I...”

“You’re so new to taking chances that you won’t even take one with me,” Adam says, sounding almost disappointed. Then he smiles gently. “Tell me what’s on your mind. I won’t bite, I promise.” He waits, his expression open.

Cora hates confrontation. There are many risks involved in sharing what she’s been thinking these weeks. Will he take advantage of her? If she opens up and talks to him like she wants to, will he break her trust? Or will it be her that ruins everything, like she’s so accustomed to doing? Will she someday, perhaps unknowingly, betray him like she did Lucas? If things progress to more than friendship, will she feel that same repulsion as she did with Lucas? Will she resent Adam in the future? Will Adam resent her?

Cora looks into his eyes as he patiently waits for her response, and she suddenly knows she’ll go anywhere with this man. To Bannerford. To the end of Tempesco. To Ardellon, Lembross, to the end of Nequa. To the edge of a cliff and right down over it. As long as Adam is there, Cora will be there too.

“He said you told him I could still change my mind, about the engagement I assume. He said you wanted to ‘win my heart.’” Her heart throbs wildly as she awaits his response.

He looks down and smirks. Cora’s heart explodes when he does. “I remember,” he says.

“Well? Why didn’t you? I was always the one who came here. Why didn’t you try to follow through?”

His eyes find Cora’s again, and she’s falling over the edge. She hopes he’s falling with her. “Well I shouldn’t have used those words. It wasn’t because I had something to prove.”

“Then why did you say it?”

“He spoke of you like you were his prized possession, locked away in his cage. He wanted to control you and keep you away from me. I found it irritating.”

Cora dies a little inside at the thought. “So you didn’t mean any of it?”

“I meant every word,” he counters, and her heart flutters to life again, “but I wasn’t being a gentleman about it. In truth, I’d have preferred it if he hadn’t shared that with you. However, you should know everything about me, even my...less-than-proud moments.”

She smiles. “Like shooting me in the shoulder?”

He nods. “Not a good morning for me,” he says.

“It was for me,” she tells him. “Remember? The cliff?”

He leans on his hand. “I’ll never forget the cliff, or the way you laughed right out loud.” His grin widens.

“It’s the first time I’ve laughed without even controlling it. It just seemed to bubble right out of me.”

“The best laughs do.” He startles her when he lays his hand over hers on the table. His touch sends waves of excitement up Cora’s arm. “I want to be frank with you, Coraleth,” he says, serious now.

“All right,” she says. She loves the way he says her name.

“I like you, and I have liked you since the first day you came to Hale.”

She stares. She can’t help it.

“I want you to know my feelings now so you don’t have doubts during our trip,” he goes on. “If Rain is coming with us, I want you to be sure that I don’t have feelings for her, and I apologize now for anything I do or say that may make it appear that I like her. We’ve been friends since we were children, so she’s practically my sister.”

“I appreciate that,” is all Cora can manage to say.

“Of course, if you don’t feel the same way, we can leave this all right here, and have no more to say about it. We can go along with the trip as friends and nothing more.”

“No,” Cora says quickly. “I do feel the same. I do. I’m just very...” She swallows and looks down at his hand still over hers, “nervous,” she finishes in a whisper, feeling stupid for even saying it.

“You were almost married to someone you’ve known all your life. How could you be nervous around me?”

Cora smiles slowly, completely mesmerized by him. “I didn’t feel like this about Lucas.”

He shuts his eyes a moment, looking relieved. “I feel bad for saying that I’m happy to hear it. It must have been hard when he left.”

“It was, but I’m better now,” she says.

He entwines his fingers in hers and she forgets to breathe. “I missed you all those weeks,” he says softly. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

“Neither could I,” she says, then shakes her head, “stop thinking about you,” she adds quickly. “It was actually almost annoying how much you were on my mind.”

He hits the side of her hand lightly with his thumb. “I’m glad I can annoy you even if I’m not actually there to annoy you.”

She grins and brushes a stray hair out of her face. She must look like a fool, blushing and smiling and unable to stop. “I’m glad you’ve got some courage to tell me how you really feel. If it was up to me, we’d go on not knowing what to think of each other for the rest of our lives.”

“Then I’m glad I’ve got courage too, because I don’t think I could have been able to go on much longer without knowing how you felt.” He tightens his grip on her hand. “This is the start of something. I know it is. But let’s try to move slowly and really get to know each other.”

He’s perfect. He really is perfect. “You may not like me once you really get to know me,” Cora says, and her heart trips when she considers the possibility. I’ve ruined the relationship of nearly every male in my life. Will this relationship actually work?

His eyes are so deeply searching Cora’s that she thinks he’ll know her just by studying them. “I highly doubt that,” he says, and winks.

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