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Simon Peel's Bride

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The world shivered and shook and shivered and she wakes with a gasp for the sixth time, coughing and spluttering, the memory of her lungs filling with water. The memory fades; just a nightmare. She finds herself studying the canopy of her bed, debating whether to roll back over and try to get back to sleep again, or to wait for her maid to come in to help her into her dress.

It's early. Very early. The curtains are only almost closed, and there's still silvery moonlight illuminating the floor.

This is the last time she'll sleep in this bed. It's not her childhood bed, but it it's her bed in the family home, and when she returns from her trip with her new husband to Portugal, she'll have her own household. She hold onto that thought, as the water tries to rise again.

The moonlight wavers, and gains a watery quality for a few moments. She shivers, skin crawling, body suddenly cold.

The water ebbs away again, and she pushed the memory-nightmare into a box again, along with her uncertainty about her fiance's plans. She snuggles back down into the blankets, trying to stave off the chill in the air - the chill in her very bones.

There's no fire laid in the grate. It's even earlier than she thought, and her breath steams the air. She doesn't want to be awake. She tosses and turns, trying to get back to sleep.

The water rises again, and she hiccups, pushing the nightmare away again. She was going to marry her Simon today. There would be a wedding breakfast and her new chintz gown - not the cold shivering embrace of the ocean.

She wishes she hadn't allowed her Simon to persuade her to the Portugal trip. She's sure it was what was giving her the nightmares about the water, but it had seemed such a romantic idea. Her fiance had even had his state room on the Lady Lovibond refurbished for her.

Her trousseau was already on board, as was the sea chest her Simon had had made for her, but the water rose again and she sobbed, and shivered. So cold. So very cold.

The marriage contracts were signed, and she would be married in a few hours, and then she would be on her husband's ship, sailing for Oporto. Her husband would keep her warm. Would kiss her when she woke shivering, would do something to drive the nightmares away.

(She had heard the maids stories. The idea scared her and thrilled her.)

Cold. So very cold. The water calls to her, and she squeezes her eyes shut. Simon. Simon, her lovely Simon. He wanted to show her the ports of Europe and his enthusiasm had been infectious. She should have said "no," but he had kissed her.

(John would have listened.)

She would be married soon. Would be Mrs Simon Peel. A married lady, who had traveled, would have stories to tell to her sisters and the women who would be her peers. She holds onto that. The contracts are signed - the water laps at the edges of her vision and sweeps her under again.

She hiccups and splutters, chest heaving against her stays. The world is blurry, salt on her lips - she struggles, hands clenching in the fabric of her blankets. The nightmares are so very real, and pushes them away again. They weren't real.

Her dress drags her down and down and down.

She's in her bed, she's getting married today, to her Simon.

John glares at Simon across the room and pours himself another tankard of her wedding ale, and drains it in one draft, but she's happy; she's married, and she's leaning against her Simon.

She's cold. So cold.

She sips at her own tankard of her wedding ale. Her Simon is whispering in her ear - John is gone - and Simon is warm.

She screws her eyes shut and tries to stuff the nightmares back into their box. She's not married yet. She's not - even if she can taste the wedding ale on her tongue - married yet.

There's laughter and ribald songs, and her Simon's men are making innuendo and John is gone; the bed pitches beneath her. The bed, not the deck. Her bed, she's still in her bed - the deck pitches and shifts and her Simon starts. There's something wrong.

The water is rising again, and she's so very cold. So very, very cold.

She stumbles after him, knowing, knowing - oh, John. Her dress fights her, her petticoats getting in the way as she tries to follow her Simon. She tries to remember which dress ; she's still in her bed, still only wearing a linen shift. If she doesn't wear that dress -

There's a body. Slumped and cold, and she shivers. It's February in the English Channel and she isn't wearing her cloak. The body is the bosun, the man her Simon had left to keep the ship on course and the other five versions of this nightmare swamp her again.

She's exhausted.

John is at the wheel, and her Simon fights him, desperate, and she begs. There's another ship - and another, and another - each more alien than the last. A giant wall of metal looms over them, topped with giant coloured blocks and she waits, waits for the crash, the shuddering, aching thud.

She's getting married today. It hasn't happened yet. It hasn't happened yet.

Her husband's ship quivers and creaks and she can't swim. She's never learned. Simon kisses her and kisses her and kisses her, and they cling onto the ship, and there's water lapping at her skirts and her Simon kisses her again and curses John.

Her dress drags her down and down and down, to the cold, cold depths.

She drags in another ragged breath, fights the feeling of her lungs filling with water. It's hard, so hard, but she manages one and then another, another and then they start to come easier.

She's getting married today. 

(The door creaks, and the little chambermaid creeps in to light the fire.)