Chapter Three

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Author's Notes: I just wanted to leave a little message here to thank each and every one of you for your kind words, for voting each chapter and for the reads. It really means a great deal to an introvert like me and I can't put into words how happy and thankful I am to you all. So thank you. From the bottom of me heart.

Chapter Three

The shock of cold almost stopped her heart. Water filled her nose and open mouth on a gasp that she couldn’t stop from slipping out. The current spun her around and around to the point where she didn’t know which direction was up and which direction was down. Her lungs burned fiercely from the salt and the need for air.

Just when she thought she would surely die, her head broke the surface of the sea. Then a wave swept over her before she could take a deep breath of oxygen. Now knowing what way to swim, Aurelia fought to the surface and gasped for air. She had to kick her legs continuously to stay afloat, the thick fabric of her stolla made every motion difficult. Her eyes darting around her, searching for landmarks.

In the gloom, she spotted the beach not far off to her left. Behind her the ship was splintering to pieces. Men were calling to each other, others crying in fear before the sea swept them under and they never resurfaced.

The swell swept her closer to the rocks and she envisioned herself being dashed to pieces by the sharp cutting surface. Shuddering in terror, renewed her efforts to swim for shore. It was heavy going. Her travelling cloak and stolla weighed her down heavily, making her progress painfully slow. With a frustrated cry, she pulled at the ties of the cloak and let it sink to the ocean floor.

Fright and adrenaline kept her fighting for her life. It took forever before she felt her sandal clad feet brush the shingle bottom. She let out a sob of relief as she got a foot hold, fighting the drag of the waves all the while. She clawed and crawled her way over the pebbles until she was out of the path of the sea and safely on the beach, utterly exhausted and gasping for breath.

Panting, she turned onto her back. The storm raged on around her, completely oblivious to the devastation it had caused. Or perhaps not, if what the sailors say was true, Aurelia thought faintly.

Now ashore, Aurelia realised how bitterly cold she was. Her fingers were numb from the cold and bloodied from the shingle, and she shivered violently as a round of coughing assaulted her body.

There was a sudden crunching of stones and a shadow was beside her. She flinched away instinctually from the perceived threat, but the voice calling to her was familiar.

“My lady, are you alright?” The prefect asked anxiously. Hands came to her shoulders and helped her to her shaky feet.

Her voice was raw with the cold and the salt of the sea so she could only nod in reply.

“We must find shelter from the storm.” He said as he unclipped his red soldier’s cloak from his armour and swept it around her shoulders. It was sodden from the impromptu swim in the sea, but it kept the wind from biting at her chilled skin. She thanked him through chattering teeth.

Supporting some of her weight, they made their way up the beach in halting stumbling steps until the shingle thinned and the tree line of a dark forest began. There was a shallow ravine where old leaves on the floor acted as insulation to their feet and the far reaching branches of the trees added to the protection against the wind and the rain.

There were six soldiers and one crew member already in the ravine, all in different states of exhaustion, but all eyes were trained on the trees. Aurelia blanched. “So few?” She whispered to the prefect. “So few have survived?”

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