Weeks had passed with no word save one letter from her brother. He’d said only that they were winning but the battle had turned into a campaign and the King was pursuing his rival down the coast. Elinor looked out at the waves crashing against the distant cliffs. Waiting was the worst kind of pain. Everything hung over a precipice at any moment ready to fall or be pulled to safety. If her brother fell in battle there would be no heir, and if her betrothed, her stranger, fell she would again be a widow.
She laid a hand over her belly. If only she’d conceived, then at least she would have had a child to look forward to. Even that small hope was gone. The wind tugged at her dress and pushed her toward the rising tide. She didn’t fight it this time. Her mother was up the beach with a guard from the house collecting shells for a new necklace.
Elinor stepped into the water. Icy needles stabbed her feet as the cold waves hit. She felt the water wash over her feet and took several more steps. The next wave covered her to her knees. Her dress was saturated and heavy. Her feet were going numb as she shuffled forward again. The pull on her legs was so strong now, like hands dragging at her, urging her down into those icy depths. The water was up to her waist now. She looked back at her footprints in the sand leading to the water’s edge.
Cold. It was so cold. Elinor gasped as she resurfaced, trying to find solid ground again. The tide had pulled her off her feet. She fought to stand but there was nothing beneath her feet. Panic began to rise in her for the first time as her heavy wool gown drug her further into the waves. She fought her dress, the tide, her own body as it started to succumb to the cold. A wave crashed over her head plunging her under. No. It couldn’t end like this. Not like this.
She resurfaced gasping and spluttering, coughing water. The gown was killing her but she couldn’t get free of it. The shore was getting further away. Elinor kicked desperately with her feet and pulled at the water with her hands. She was frantic.
Her mother’s scream rent the air and Elinor saw her racing down the shore. Another wave plunged her beneath the surface. She was exhausted. Fighting the gown and the tide was bad enough but the cold was sapping her strength. She could no longer feel her fingers or her toes and her legs felt leaden. So this was it. The tide drug her down, deeper, the suffocating cold surrounded her.
Air. Blessed Air.
Strong arms wrapped around her middle and hauled her from the water. She coughed and spluttered, clinging to her rescuer as he reached the beach again. Her vision was hazy and she was vaguely aware that she was now being bundled into the cart. Someone held her but she did not have the energy to see who. Her body was shaking and her teeth chattered violently. She was cold.