The darkness overwhelmed me, confusing up with down. The water pounded at me, relentless, until my eyes were filled with it, my mouth the same. I thought the seaweed would claim my legs, coffining me in the apathetic sand. All I could think was: “I want to live” and “I’m the last of my family.”
A suspended moment of guilt took possession of my thoughts. I could vividly imagine my brothers, lost in the war, and my father, dying in my arms before I was whisked away to the enemy’s ship. I couldn’t see my mother’s face really, only a memory cobbled together from photographs of her, since she had died with my birth. I’d never known her scent, her smile, her true self.
The severity of my situation regained my attention, choking the last of the air from my lungs. The current was too strong, too dark, too deep—
From nowhere, strong arms grasped my middle, dragging me through the water. A circular disk of light, the moon I suppose, grew larger, filling my vision. I wanted to help, but my body was too tired. Somehow my rescuer brought me to the surface, sweet air rushing into my chest. I coughed uncontrollably as the strong body swam me to the shore.
We crashed onto the beach, a wave propelling us onto the wet sand. My long skirts stuck to my legs, making it hard to move away from the encroaching water. I felt myself being dragged farther away from the pummeling waves and onto solider ground. I clutched the ground, coughing out water and gasping.
“Are you alright?” a smoky, worried voice asked, slapping the center of my back and hovering by my face.
“Ye—“ I tried to answer, but water stuck up my words and I could only cough.
“Take your time,” my rescuer said, rubbing a circle between my shoulder blades. Gentle hands pulled the hair back from my face, gathering it into a clump at my back. I settled down, allowing the hypnotic movement to slow my heart, to help me focus. Finally, I looked up to see who I had to thank.
In the moonlight, I couldn’t tell much right away. There was short hair, wide shoulders, toned arms, and big hands. And eyes so dark they seemed to be born of the night. They captured my attention for a moment with their intricacy and beauty.
But then I saw the soaked t-shirt sticking to slight curves and realized that a woman had saved me from the waves. She watched me, releasing my hair and moving away to give me some space.
“Thank you,” I said, my voice cracking.
“Of course,” she said, her voice mellow and even. “What happened? I was just taking an evening walk on the beach and saw an arm reaching out of the water. Good thing the moon is so bright tonight. Good thing I was here. What were you doing?”
A sudden realization of what had just happened swept over me. I had been so close to death and this woman had, by some chance, kept me from it. Now, I was here, alone, in enemy lands without any family, without any connections of any kind. But could I tell her the truth: that I had fallen from a wrecked ship, that I was a prisoner of war, that I was her enemy? Was it safe?
I sat firmly on the sand, gathering my knees to my chest, and began to sob uncontrollably. All the loss, all the relief, was too much. My sore shoulders shook despite my effort to still them.
“Oh,” my savior said, coming close once again and gathering me into her arms. “It’s alright. You’re safe. You’re going to be just fine.” She held me close, rocking me and shushing softly in my ear. She pushed my wet hair behind my ears, continuing to speak in a calming tone. Her kindness was unnecessary and it only made me want to cry more.
Gratitude surged in me and I squeaked out another,
When I was able to quiet down, she said,
“I’m Ida by the way. What’s your name?”
“Well, Lily, I think we should get you home. Or to a hospital. Thank the gods for those twelve years of swimming lessons! And thank the gods you’re a slight thing. Otherwise, you might have just drowned on the spot. How do you feel?”
“I don’t think I need a hospital,” I said quickly. “Just some water in my lungs. I’ll be fine.”
Of course I wasn’t sure. I’d just escaped a shipwreck, on which I was a prisoner, and I’d almost drowned. I had nowhere to go, no one to run to… And, yet, I knew that I couldn’t tell Ida.
“I’m sure,” I said.
“Well, at least let me drive you home. My car is just up there, in the lot. It’s a bit of a walk, but—“
“That’s not necessary,” I cut in.
Ida gave me a stern look, her long eyebrows rushing together.
“Of course it’s necessary,” she retorted, steel in her tone. She had the domineering aura of someone who always gave orders and always got her way. There was a nobility in the way she spoke and in the way she carried herself. She stood then, reaching out a hand to help me up. My ribs rebelled, aching in strange places, but I got up, grateful to stand on solid ground.
At her full height, Ida was tall and well-built, only exemplifying a sense of regality. I’d seen good breeding. Hell, I was well-bred. Not that that meant anything now. I met her stubbornness with my own, lifting my chin to appear in control.
“Thank you for your help, but I’ll be fine from here,” I insisted. My voice sounded high and light in comparison to hers. I tried to imbue it with strength nevertheless. She must have sensed it, because she eyed me for a moment.
“Why are you resisting me?” she asked, suspicion lacing her voice. “What are you not telling me?”
I shut my mouth tightly, afraid that something would slip out. Ida kept her gaze hard on me, trying to wear me down. The pounding of the waves in the summer night seemed to echo the pounding of my heart. I waited, fighting the urge to tell her everything.
Before I could answer, there was movement in the water a dozen feet from us and a man rode a wave into the shore. He was coughing as he fell onto the sand. In a flash, I knew that he must be one of the men from the ship I’d been on, most likely a soldier. He would recognize me and take me hostage. I panicked.
“You’re right,” I said, grabbing Ida’s arms to show my urgency. I spoke quickly, my words tumbling out, one on top of another. “I am hiding something from you. I’m the daughter of King Priam of Troy, your sworn enemy. I was on one of your ships returning from the war. I was under guard. I’m a prisoner of war. My entire family is dead now, so I have no one to turn to. And that man over there will definitely take me into custody if he sees me.”
Until now, Ida’s face had been composed, even through the labor of saving me from the waves. But now, shock was written all over her features, overriding her good breeding and meticulous restraint.
“What?” was all she said.
“Please, I must leave. You must help me.”
I wanted to run, but I doubted my legs could get me very far. I’d been exhausted before the ocean swallowed me. Now, I was beyond my wildest imaginations of exhaustion and completely at the mercy of a stranger.
Ida looked down to my hands where they were clasped on her arms. I let her go, wrapping my arms around myself instead. I felt my body beginning to shake.
She watched me, her dark eyes wide and uncertain. The moonlight cut across her face, leaving half in shadow yet accentuating the bold and strikingly beautiful lines of her cheeks and jaw. I could see the calculation in her eyes, the struggle to decide what to do. My shaking worsened, causing my teeth to chatter.
In a flash, Ida was in motion. She jogged a short distance away and picked up a pair of boots that were sitting alone in the sand. Then, she came back to me, putting an arm around my shoulder and leading me away from the soldier. She led me along the beach and then away from it, toward a small parking lot.
I could hardly believe what was happening. This girl, who had just saved me from death, was saving me yet again. Was it illegal to harbor a prisoner of war in Greece? I had no idea. A surge of gratitude and affection for Ida overwhelmed me, leaving behind a pleasant warmth in my chest.
A lone, red Ferrari sat majestically in the cement lot, parked across the lines instead of between them. Ida left me by the passenger side and pulled a key from inside her boot. She opened the car and reached into the back seat. I got in hesitantly, sitting on a towel that she’d thrown on the seat. She threw another towel over me and then got into the driver’s seat. She pulled a phone from her boots before throwing them into the back of the car. She dialed and put the phone to her ear as she started the car.
“E?” she said. “Yes, I know it’s late, but could you make up a guest room? I have a friend coming over.” There was a pause, then, “Yes, she’s a girl. For goodness sake, I—…Yes, yes, of course. Bye.” She hung up and sped away, taking me farther and farther from my home and ever closer to the unknown.
I wanted to ask her a thousand questions. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. Surely, if Father knew what I was doing, he’d be furious. Maybe he’d throw her in jail himself. But she’d looked so helpless and innocent in the moonlight, her body shaking and exhausted. I couldn’t leave her there. Besides, she was so beautiful. I’d always been a sucker for a nice voice and a pretty face.
I drove in silence for a few minutes, my bare feet crunching sand on the gas pedal. My jeans stuck fast to my legs and I longed to be free of them.
But all of this couldn’t distract me from the situation at hand. I thought for a moment longer what to say, and then said,
“I should turn you in, you know.”
I spared a quick look in her direction. Her face was in profile and the moonlight illuminated the lines of her nose, lips, and chin. She had my favorite sort of nose—that small, unassuming type with a subtly stately shape. Her lips were perfectly shaped and expressive. Now they were pressed together, showing her fear, her uncertainty.
“I know,” she said softly.
I let her words float in the air, not marring them with my own. I didn’t know what I should do, but I knew what I wanted. I just wasn’t sure if it was wise to tell her. But I couldn’t stop myself.
“I don’t want to,” I confessed. “I don’t want to turn you in, I mean.”
I thought I heard Lily release a small sigh and fought back a smile.
“So, you’re a princess,” I said. “I don’t think that’s something you should brag about. At least, not around here.”
“You’re right,” she said lightly. “It wasn’t very smart of me.”
“Well, keep it to yourself for a while,” I said. “At least until I get things sorted out.”
There was silence again, drawn out yet amicable. Then, Lily whispered,
I felt a light touch on my leg. I looked over and Lily was smiling, tears sparkling in her eyes. I turned back to watch the road, but the image of her gratitude was burned into my brain. I felt myself blushing and hoped she couldn’t see it in the dark.
“You’re welcome,” I answered, my voice sounding gruff. We were silent for the rest of the ride, basking in the moonlight and the buzz of the road beneath us.