Ophelia slips into the water with something that is closer to a sigh than a cry for help. The water is deeper than she’d thought and her gown quickly drags her down, down down into the weeds and darkness.
She shrugs out of her heavy dress and now clad only in her shift, she feels herself floating back up through the weeds that wrap slimy fingers around her ankles. She gets one breath in before she is dragged under again, trapped in a current pulling her this way and that, away from her home and her brother and the Prince and all that she knows. Who knows where the water will take her.
Her body crashes against something and she cannot help her gasp. Water floods her mouth and she starts to struggle, clawing at the water to find the surface to fight to breathe again. Her flailing hand gasps something soft and she holds fast, but whatever it is cannot hold her weight against the current and she feels it being pulled along with her. Her strength is failing and darkness creeps in the corners of her vision, maybe Death had come for her after all.
Suddenly a hand, it's grip like iron, circles her wrist, stopping her struggle. Ophelia feels heavy and drowned already, but the stranger pulls harder and another hand reaches down to tangle in her shift and she’s rising, feet kicking against nothing, until she feels the scrap and pull at her stomach as she's pulled into a boat like an overly large fish. The water doesn’t want to give her up now that she’s given herself to it. It fills her eyes and nose and mouth and she coughs and takes great heaving inhalations, fighting against the smothering sensations.
The same hands from before rest upon her back, rubbing soothing patterns as she struggles to breathe and expel the water in her lungs.
After a long while she manages to catch her breath and raises her eyes to see her savior.
It's a woman. Her face pale and haloed with long red hair, unbound by any jewelry or net. She looks surprised at what a strange creature she'd pulled onto her boat.
"Thank you,"Ophelia rasped out, throat still thick with brackish water. "I owe you my life."
The stranger blinks owlishly for another moment before she buries her surprise enough to reply.
“It was no trouble at all. I did not known what to think when I first felt the tug upon my quilts. Certainly not a drowning maiden!”
Ophelia smiled between the dripping strands of her hair. “Well I am grateful for your quick action.” Surprisingly, the words rang true. Her curiosity was beginning to stir once more. That virtue that had brought her so much heartache before could not be quieted it seemed.
“And what is a lady such as yourself doing alone in these waters?”
The lady’s hand stilled and her eyes went distance for a moment. Slowly her reply came.
“Truly I expected to draw my last breath by now,” she admitted. “Already I’ve felt a chill settling inside me. Perhaps you are not a maiden at all, but an angel come to collect me? A vision sent to comfort me in my last moments. Surely no Divine power would show me such beauty and compassion only to now see my curse fulfilled.”
She glanced towards the heavens as if waiting for answers, but none came. The birds chirped merrily on and the water splashed and carried them onwards.
"Come," Ophelia said. "Let us paddle towards the shore and I may spread my shift out to dry in the sun. As it dries you can tell me your story, and perhaps I will share mine as well. I do not think either of us are destined to die at this time. We have found each other for a reason.”
She grabbed one of the lady’s cold hands in her own and held it tight. “Come,” she repeated. “Help me make for the shore and we can rest ourselves. We will clear our minds and make plans. This shall be a second chance for both of us."
And so they did. The Lady of Shalott took her hand and together they lounged in the field until the sun was high, weaving chains of wild daisies into each other's hair and planning out their travels together. Ophelia held tight to the Lady's hand and felt the seductive pull of the water lessen for the first time in many years.