Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

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As the sun sets behind the faraway mountains of the west, Coraleth climbs into the cart of the wagon. Rain and Milo follow.

“Is that everything?” Adam calls from the ground, pushing the last bag into the cart.

“Yes,” the girls chorus.

Cora has her bow, quiver, and a wonderful, if small, group of friends. What more could she need? As she thinks this, she glances to the mountains above Hale. Somewhere in there is tucked away a little lumber town. And somewhere there is her father. There was a time she thought she couldn’t live without him. Now she’s about to see if that is true.

“It’s hot out,” Rain says.

Adam climbs into the driver seat and clicks to the horses, then says, “It is. I think we’re in for a bad storm tonight or tomorrow.”

“Is it wise to go on an expedition with a storm threatening to ruin our luggage?” Milo wonders, adjusting herself on the hard wooden bench lining the walls of the cart.

“Probably not,” Adam says with a smile.

And on they go, through the little town, past the beautiful cobblestone Sanctuary, and onward, until the sunset is before them and Hale and Atherton are behind.

Conversation is pleasant, and stories flow around the group like water through a stream bed. Milo and Adam talk easily and freely, and Cora never feels left out. Rain is simply full of silly jokes and hilarious stories. She has the group hooting with laughter within a half-hour.

But as the night wears on, and the only light visible is the light of Adam’s driving torch, everyone’s eyes begin to get heavy, except Cora’s, since she’s had more than enough sleep lately and the excitement of the trip fuels her alertness.

“We should stop to sleep soon,” Adam says from the driving seat.

“I can drive for awhile if you want,” Coraleth offers. “I’m not sleepy yet.”

“All right. We’re not changing directions for a good long while. Are you sure?”

“I am.”

Adam slows the horses and hands her the reins when she’s climbed up to sit next to him.

“Don’t drive us off any cliffs while we’re sleeping. And stop when you feel tired,” he instructs.

“I promise. Get some sleep,” Cora says.

To her surprise, he kisses her cheek as he says, “Goodnight,” then climbs into the back.

Heart fluttering, Cora speeds up the horses again and they continue on forward. As she drives, she thinks about how different this relationship is from the one she had with Lucas. She hadn’t wanted to kiss Lucas, but is now wondering when her first kiss with Adam will take place. Where? What events will lead up to it? Will it be long from now? She knows she shouldn’t be impatient for it. It will happen when it’s right. Adam said he wanted to take things slowly, so maybe it won’t happen for a long time.

She wonders if it will be anything like the ones with Lucas—awkward, for her at least, a tad disgusting, always a little too long. For some reason, she doubts it.

About an hour later, Cora’s eyes are getting heavy, and staring at the endless, dark road makes them heavier. She drives on ten more minutes, then parks the wagon under the protection of a droopy willow tree, near a thin brook. She ensures the horses can reach the water, ties them to the tree trunk, then climbs into the back with the rest of the snoozing passengers.

Rain is closest to her, on her right, curled up between two sacks of supplies. Adam is on Cora’s left, tucked mostly underneath the wagon bench, his lips parted slightly. Cora watches him for a moment longer, then tiptoes over him, toward Milo, who lies on her side at the end of the cart, facing away from her. There’s a space between Milo and a bag of supplies, but there is also room for Cora right next to Adam. As much as the thought of sleeping next to him thrills her, Cora lies down next to the bag of supplies, across the cart from him.

Yet, as she drifts off, she silently watches him dream, and wonders why he would like her, why such a fascinating and beautiful person would single her out. Before she drifts away, she wonders one last thing: if he knew everything she’d done, if he knew who she really was, deep down, would it change anything?

When Adam’s eyes open the next morning, he knows it’s early. The sky is barely tinted blue, still streaked about with rosy gold and citrus yellow. Adam rises and rubs the sleep from his eyes. He glances first around the cart. There’s Rain, across from him, draped over a sack of supplies. Milo is sprawled out at the end of the cart. Where’s Coraleth?

Adam stretches and stands, then he sees her. When he does, he smiles. She’s tucked in beside one of the bags, her arms wrapped around it as if it’s a raft and she’s drowning. Her face is half-buried in the cloth, her light auburn hair spread about her like an oblong halo. She’s so beautiful.

He raises his head and climbs onto the driving seat to watch the sunrise. His eyes trace the silver and gold edges of the clouds gathered around the sun. The clouds are thick and grey in the north and west, and the air is still so humid. He’s sure the storm will come today.

Adam feels like one of those drifting clouds. Restless. Always moving but never getting anywhere. Sailing through the endless sky but never arriving at a destination. Never finding fulfillment or meaning. Having only one purpose: keep going.

He glances back at Coraleth, sleeping peacefully on that sack of supplies, and smiles again. She’s been through a lot in the past few months. She had a rigid routine when he stepped in and, seemingly, spread his restless disease to her. The restlessness seemingly caused her to refuse to marry Lucas Kayde, and she kept running away from her life. Over and over. She’d nearly killed herself by running, twice. She wanted to keep moving just like he did. He fears for her. The disease eats at him every day. He doesn’t want her to suffer the way he has in the past. He’s made terribly foolish decisions when he’s acted on impulse.

Yet, here they are, on their way to a place Coraleth has never been before. Wanderlust cannot be cured, only fed. Is he enabling her?

A pang of anxiety twists his stomach. Bannerford is a place he knows well. He stayed there for a few months at a time when he was a little younger. He’s made both friends and enemies in that large city, and they’re sure to run across some of them. Bannerford is famous for being a city of secrets. For Adam, that is far too true.

As the stormclouds cover the golden sun, Adam looks back at Coraleth. He told her yesterday that she should know everything about him, even his less-than-proud moments. If she actually did, would it change anything?

Despite the secrets and the evil he knows is inside him, there is one thing that makes Adam feel like he’s doing good, and that is saving Coraleth. Wrapping up her wounds. Caring for her. Watching over her through a night of fitful nightmares. He thinks of when she had moaned for her father two nights ago, when he’d stayed with her in the inn. He’d gone to her, held her hand, and she calmed. He remembers looking down on her relaxed face and knowing that being evil is a choice, not a destiny.

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