The thunder rumbled in the distance, threatening rain. Tomorrow was her wedding day. Elinor glanced over her shoulder. On a grassy knoll over looking the strait her mother and older brother sat eating a picnic lunch. Kicking off her soft leather shoes Elinor walked further up the beach, the hard, wet sand made no sound beneath her feet. Her skirt pressed against her legs hurrying her onward as the wind pushed at her back. Strands of pale brown hair escaped from her bun to dance around her face, teased by the wind.
She took a deep breath of the sea air. The waves rushed into the shore then gentled and lapped at the sand before receding gracefully. Clutching her shoes in one hand and her skirt in the other she waded into the cold waves up to her ankle. The water demanded that she step further into its depths but she held her ground. It was like a thing alive and she loved it. The salty smell, the sound, even the noisy gulls that called and bickered over head. The wind dragged at her clothing, the sea at her feet, all of it seemed to be urging her deeper into the solitude, into the wild freedom of that open water.
Elinor walked further down the beach, her feet still in the water that tugged and nipped at her ankles, pleading with her to come deeper. She glanced over her shoulder, her mother and her brother were out of sight around a bend in the beach. Closing her eyes she faced the sea and threw her arms out wide. The wind slammed against her body and the waves tugged at her feet. She felt alive, alive as only the wind and the sea could make her. She gasped as a particularly strong gust nearly drove her into the water and opened her eyes. The water rushed over her ankles, soaking her skirt hem and dragging at her. She lowered her arms and stepped backward out of the water. She backed away several paces then sank to the hard sand, her knees drawn to her chest. Resting her head upon her knees she stared at the waves.
Tomorrow would bring a new life. A life that demanded she leave this one behind. It was a prospect she had not faced before. Benjamin would likely have purchased a small estate nearby when the war had finished but with his passing that hope had disappeared. Now she was faced with the prospect of leaving the sea, possibly for the rest of her life. Her understanding of the Tethras estate was that it was mostly inland and the estate castle lay in the deep mountains, far from the sea. She felt a tear roll down her cheek only to be stolen by the wind, like a tender parent comforting a child.
“Why are you crying?”
Elinor shrieked and skittered sideways. She had not heard the man approaching from down the path behind her. She hastily stood and brushed at her skirts, oh she would never hear the end of this, going beyond sight and talking to a man without an escort.
“Forgive me, I did not mean to frighten you.”
The man bowed from the waist and Elinor noticed that he held his own leather boots in one hand along with his stockings, that explained why she had not heard him. His hair was a common brown that glistened faintly red, perhaps an auburn in clear light, which the wind had teased from its restraints. She dipped a curtsy.
“No, forgive me, I should not have strayed from my chaperones.”
He started to wave the hand containing his boots and stockings but stopped short.
“My questions still stands. Why were you crying?”
Elinor looked away, she should not answer, she should say good day and hurry back, but his pale green eyes were so earnest. It couldn’t hurt to tell this stranger at least a little of her troubles, after all she’d never see him again.
“I’m to be married on the morrow and I was saying goodbye.”
His brow drew down in thought as he surveyed the empty beach.
“To whom were you saying goodbye?”
Elinor lifted a hand helplessly and looked down at her sandy toes.
“I was saying goodbye to the sea, after my marriage I will be moving inland. I may never see it again.”
“It means so much to you that you mourn its loss with tears?”
Elinor looked up at him. He was studying her, his head tilted to one side.
She could think of no other reply and turned her gaze to the waves. How could she possibly explain how much the pull of the waves and the push of the wind meant to her? Not even her father or her brothers understood the seduction of that freedom. She was never free, bound always by tradition. She loved the security, the safety, the peace of that tradition but a small part of her, a tender, hidden part, desired this freedom to come and go as the tide and run mad like the wind. How could any man, already free to come and go, to run mad, understand how the sea made her feel?
“It’s the freedom isn’t it?”
She swung around to face him.
“The water, the wind, they’re free, they’re wild, it’s seductive and sensual. I understand that. No one can tame the ocean, or the wind, only borrow their power for a time.”
She could only stare. How did he know? How did he articulate that feeling deep inside her? That raw, untamable force that pulled at her how did he know? They stood in silence for a long while, she studied his profile as he gazed at the darkening clouds over the thrashing water. Finally, he looked at her, examining her face with those pale green eyes.
“Do not fear going inland. There are wild things there too. Good day, my lady.”
He bowed and turned away. Elinor watched him go. He did not glance behind, but walked with sure and steady steps along the shore. He was dressed plainly, whoever he was, he was the only person she’d ever met that understood her love of the sea. Perhaps he was a sailor. She wished she’d asked for his name. Turning away she walked back toward her family, tomorrow her life would change and she was determined that it would be for the best.