Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

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Decisions, Doubt, Dinner

The whole situation is suddenly clear, like Cora has been splashed in the face with cold water, breaking her from her trance. The sight of Mother’s ring in Adam’s hand is enough to rock her to her core. She forgets Adam’s proposal. The cold water washed away everything.

Then her mind is flooded with questions.First, Is it really her ring?

She takes it from his hand and bolts to hold it under candlelight. It has the same simple band, the same tiny, black stone as the only decoration. And within the band is etched the word “Undying.” Yes, it’s hers.

Now, How did Adam come to have it?

Cora turns to him. “Where did you say you find this?”

She now realizes how bewildered he looks at her strange behaviour. “A girl was selling them in Hale the day we first met, when you drove your friend there. Was that the same girl?”

“Yes,” Cora breathes quietly. That day at the stream, all those years ago. The ring hadn’t fallen into the water. Alexis stole it.

She opens her hand and lovingly inspects the ring, still far too small for her finger. All these years Alexis had it, through the months Cora spent as a child lamenting the loss of the precious item. Back when they were close and later when they drifted apart. It laid in her cottage every day and night. And how innocent she acted when it clanked in her pouch as Cora drove her to sell it!

“What possessed you to buy this from Alexis?” Cora asks, rather harshly.

“Is something wrong?” Adam wonders, alarmed.

“Why?”

“I...I thought it was pretty. And I wanted to show it to my father.”

Cora drops her brows. “Your father?”

“Yes. That’s his writing in the band. He must have made it.”

Cora goes cold. How...?

“This,” Cora says softly, “was my mother’s ring.”

Adam stills, staring. “What? Your mother’s?”

“Yes. My father met her when he was delivering wood to plains-folk towns. He only told me that, while he was stopped in one, he met her and they were married within a few days. He got the ring made and etched the day he proposed. I told him later that it almost seemed like he knew what would happen if he brought her up to the cold mountains.”

“She must have been from Hale then. When I showed it to Father, he confirmed he had made it. How did that girl get it then?”

Cora clenches the ring in her fist. “She stole it from me when we were about fourteen.”

“And you never found out about it?”

“No. Not until this moment.”

The room is silent and Cora just stares at the ring. After a long moment, she glances up at Adam and catches his eye.

“I suppose there’s nothing you can do about that now,” he tells her quietly.

“No,” Cora sighs. “I suppose not.” Then she thinks of something. “Did it come on a chain?”

“The ring? No. Alexis sold it to me by itself.”

“For how much?”

“About thirty gold.”

“Thirty?!” Cora exclaims, outraged. “It’s worth thrice that! More even. Solid gold.”

Adam lowers his eyes to the ring. “I’m sorry.”

“No, no.” Cora tries to calm herself. It isn’t Adam’s fault, so there’s no use in taking it out on him. “I’m glad to have it back.”

He looks relieved. “Why don’t you try it on?”

“It won’t fit. I had to wear it around my neck with the chain.”

Adam’s expression drops in disappointment. “That’s unfortunate.”

Cora pushes the ring onto her smallest finger, where it fits snugly. “I’ll wear it there for now. Is that all right?”

He smirks. “I suppose.” Then he stands and pulls her close. “Are you still marrying me?”

She smiles, but images from the day unexpectedly rush through her brain. The waterfall. The alley. The women. Adam’s white-hot heat, burning her skin. His worrying behaviour. Everything. Together, it all feels like there’s something wrong. Out of place. Unstable.

And yet, here she is at the cliff. He’s asking her to jump, and she’s telling him,

“Yes.”

Then, as he kisses her, a tiny doubt springs up like a weed in her mind.

“Are you sure they didn’t send a messenger? Did Laraj remain close like I requested?” Master Cordax inquires of one of his servants.

“I’m not sure, my lord. Laraj hasn’t returned since you sent him with the message,” the servant replies.

“Well it isn’t like him to be late. It’s nearly two hours after sunset. Where are they?”

He takes another sip of wine. Milo Spruce, across the table, is tracing the same pattern on the table over and over, either out of nervousness or impatience. Cordax thinks it’s both.

“Milo, is everything all right?” he asks her soothingly.

“I’m not sure about this anymore. Maybe we should call it off.”

“My dear, you worry too much. We’ve gone over it many times. You’re just an actress waiting for the play to begin, so I understand your nervousness.”

“But a play is all fake. This is real, Cordax. Are you sure he’ll survive?”

“If you come through on your part, then I’m most sure he will. No one is dying tonight.”

“And you? What if you don’t come through?”

“You’ve already paid me. I am now in your debt. And I haven’t been more excited to see an old friend. Tonight shall be most pleasant.”

Milo cringes. “Don’t take too much pleasure in it.”

“Speaking of which, Dystella,” Cordax calls. A willowy maid approaches and Cordax waves a regal hand. “Check on the new kitchen maid. Report everything you see. I want to see how she’s getting on.”

As Dystella leaves to do Cordax’s bidding, Milo’s throat goes dry. “It’s only for a little while, right Cordax? She’s coming back to Hale in no more than two months.”

“If she wants to come back. By the way she stared in wonder at our kitchens, I believe she’ll enjoy it here very much.” He smiles slowly. “Are you feeling guilty?”

Stomach rotting, Milo just takes a long sip of wine.

“My lord.” Laraj appears in the doorway. “They’re here.”

Cordax rises, his eyes lighting up. “Wonderful. Escort them inside.” As Dystella leaves, he turns to Milo. "Thus the evening begins."

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