Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

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"I'm saying yes"

Cora opens her eyes to the familiar rafters of her own bedroom. Oh, she thinks in relief, it was all a dream! She smiles. Thank Herus!

“Thinking lovely thoughts?” a voice wonders.

Her stomach tightens and she sees the curtain drawn back between the beds. Adam Spruce is seated on Papa’s bed, being administered to by Papa himself. She lays her head back and sighs heavily. “It wasn’t a dream,” she mutters.

Adam laughs, but Papa is the one who speaks. “You’d shoot someone in your dream?” he asks her, turning halfway toward her with a bloody cloth in his hand.

“If it was him, yes!” she replies.

“What did I do wrong?” Adam wants to know.

She huffs and shakes her head, the movement causing a twinge of pain in her heavily bandaged shoulder.

“Cora-Mae, you should be thanking this man. I don’t even want to consider what would have happened if he hadn’t carried you back. He even tore up his own wound in doing so!” Papa exclaims.

She points at him accusingly. “He’s the one who shot me!”

“You shot me!”

“Children,” Papa admonishes, “let’s not fight. You’re both at fault here.”

“I’m curious, Papa. What was your response when a strange, shirtless man knocked on our door, carrying your only child with an arrow wound that he caused?” she demands to know.

“He explained immediately that it was an accident, and I saw the bloodstained bandages on his own shoulder, so I knew you’d shot him too. I believed him.”

“You did?” she exclaims.

“Well he was bleeding heavily. I had no reason not to.”

“Unbelievable.” Cora pushes herself to a sitting position and groans at the sight of her arm in a makeshift sling. “Papa...,” she moans in displeasure, “I can’t work in a sling.”

“You won’t have to,” he answers.

She stands up slowly and waits for the darkness to clear from her eyes. “Why not?” she asks.

He turns halfway to her again. “Because you’re not working. You’re going to rest until that arm is fully healed.”

Her heart plummets. “No, I can’t! Papa, it’s logging season. If we fall behind—”

“I’m aware of how important you are to the work and how important it is to you, but you simply can’t until your arm is better.”

“Papa,” she whines, knowing how childish she must sound and not caring. This is not a childish matter. This is a matter of surviving next winter.

“The men will compensate for you.”

Cora leaves and glances out the window in the main room. Dawn has come and the men are already at work. To think that she cannot join them is nearly too horrible to bear. Cora bites down hard on her lip. “Papa, I can’t just stay inside andrest while the others work. I must do something!”

Just then, the door opens and Lucas steps inside. His eyes find her and run quickly over her injured arm. Then he hugs her gently, minding the arm. “I just heard. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she answers flatly. She inhales his familiar scent and sighs. “I can’t go back to work.”

“Of course you can’t. You’d damage it more if you did,” he says, then releases her at arms’ length. He brushes the bandage lightly. “Does it hurt?”

“Not really anymore. Though, when it happened...”

“Who did it?” he presses, his eyes igniting.

Cora glances to the open bedroom door and Lucas reaches it in two long strides. He stands in the doorway and she joins him. “Adam Spruce,” she announces triumphantly, “this is Lucas Kayde, the man I’m going to marry.”

The room gets so still that, if Cora dropped a hair, she might hear it land. Lucas stiffens next to her, and Papa turns completely around and stares. Adam’s expression is neutral, unreadable.

Her own heart freezes at what she’s said. No! she want to shout. I only meant that he asked me. I didn’t mean to say that I was indeed going to marry him. It just came out. I haven’t decided yet!

Adam speaks before she can explain herself. “It’s nice to meet you,” he says to Lucas, smiling.

“You too,” Lucas says.

He doesn’t even comment about the wound. He just takes Cora’s good arm and pulls her out of the room, out of the cabin, down the trail to the forest, and into the quiet embrace of the trees. He’s quiet the entire walk, until he stops and turns her to him. Then he stares, wide-eyed, at her.

“You’re saying ‘yes’?”

Cora examines her own heart. She didn’t have enough time to consider this, but she must think about it now. She must seriously decide if this is what she’ll do. Will she marry Lucas?

Oh, why did I say that? I need more time!

Finally, logic steps in. Lucas is a good man, through and through. He’d make a fine husband. Papa already considers him a son. He and Cora have known each other since childhood. He really does seem perfect for her. Still, something feels out-of-place deep, deep within, but she buries it, telling herself it’s just fear. She’ll eventually love him.

Right?

Cora nods and smiles. “I’m saying ‘yes.’”

He grins and takes her hands. Then he leans closer, his eyes dropping from her eyes to her lips. She feels his breath on her face. He’s going to kiss me, she thinks. She’s never been kissed. She’s hardly ever seen a kiss. She can only say that some kind of natural intuition told her that was what he was going to do. Cora doesn’t know how to return it. But it’s just Lucas. He’s never kissed anyone either, as far as she knows.

His lips touch Cora’s tentatively and she immediately closes her eyes. They separate slightly, then he kisses her again, softly. He touches her face with one hand and presses her back with the other. His lips are very wet and she tries hard to staunch the awkwardness turning her stomach. It feels how she imagines kissing her brother would be like. She then supposes that’s how all kisses must be. Cora wouldn’t know.

After what feels like a long time, he pulls back, and Cora’s guilty for feeling relief. “I should probably explain things to Papa,” she says. “I did just spring it on him.”

He nods, a goofy smile on his face. “And I’ll tell my parents too. They’ll be thrilled.” He unexpectedly takes her hand and they walk together back down the trail. Cora’s hand is moist with perspiration and she wants to draw it away, but he might think it rude, so she just endures it and hopes he doesn’t find her disgusting.

“When is the wedding?” she asks him.

“I was thinking it could be in autumn. That way, logging season would long be over and we could build our own house over the summer.”

Longing sweeps over Cora at the thought that she’ll be living without Papa this time next year. Nevertheless, she says, “That sounds agreeable.” Then she thinks of something. “How long have you considered marrying me?”

He blushes. Cora’s never seen him blush. “For a very, very long time,” he admits, casting a sheepish glance at her.

Cora turns away, half because she doesn’t want him to see whatever absurd expression she might be wearing, and half because it feels like the appropriate thing to do. He curls a tendril of her hair behind her ear and she involuntarily stiffens at his touch, hating herself for doing so. Didn’t Papa tell her to let him love her? Did he know how hard it would be?

That out-of-place feeling returns. Cora’s heart is thudding painfully in her shoulder. She feels like she’s made a terrible mistake and she has no way out. She tries hard to tell herself that things will get better. She’ll get used to the idea of being married to her best childhood friend. Everything will come out all right.

They arrive at the cabin and the men at the sawmill greet them with hearty congratulations. Cora’s face burns when one man pulls Lucas aside and says, “If you love her now, just wait until she gives you a daughter. You can’t imagine how much you’ll love them both then.”

Gives you a daughter.” As if he has no control over it. She shudders and goes inside, leaving Lucas with the crowd of ecstatic men.

“Papa,” she calls when she enters. I need you. I’m scared. I think I made a mistake.

She immediately drowns in Papa’s arms.

“I’m so happy you decided to marry him, Cora-Mae,” he says into her hair. “He’s a good, strong man. He’ll love you so much. He’ll always protect you.”

Cora wraps her arms around him and sighs. “I know he will.” I’m scared. I think I made a mistake. But you’re so thrilled at this. How can I destroy that? “I’m happy that you’re happy.”

He holds her at arms’ length and studies her eyes. She knows hers are like his—silvery light blue. She has his eyes and Mother’s hair colour.

“Are you absolutely sure about this, Cora-Mae?” he asks her. “You don’t have to marry him if you don’t want to. I did think you’d be entering into this a little slower. I thought you’d give it more time.”

She grips his arms tightly, almost too tightly, trying to reassure him like she’s trying to reassure herself. It may not be what I want, but... “I’m sure this is what I’m supposed to do.”

“Is it what you want?” he questions.

Cora hesitates. She can’t share her doubt with him. He’s so pleased with Lucas. She can’t disappoint him. But still, he wants the best for her. He wants what will truly make her happy. And he can see through her like glass. So she tells him what she hopes to be the truth:

“It will be.”

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