A shocking discovery…
The sun-warmed sand was purest white and as fine-grained as sugar. On more than one occasion, Linnea had slipped off her shoes to walk barefoot through its softness, though she did not do so today; the abbess had reproved her severely last time, when she’d returned from the beach with sandy feet.
A flicker of rebellion stirred to life at the memory. She hadn’t taken vows yet; must she then renounce every little pleasure the world had to offer? Suddenly defiant, Linnea pulled off her wimple and let her plait tumble down her back, sighing her satisfaction at the sense of release. The wind teased little, tickling wisps of hair about her face as she walked, and she idly twined one tendril about her finger. Not golden, like her sister Astrid’s, but a darker blonde, close to her father’s honey-brown. Still, it was thick and glossy, and she felt a pang at the thought of cutting it forever if she did take vows. A worldly thought, the abbess would have said, her lips pursing in habitual disapproval.
Linnea shook her head to dispel the image, and quickened her pace, not wanting to waste these moments dwelling on disagreeable things. Instead, she fixed her gaze upon the snow-white sands and the silver-blue water lapping gently at the shore. Not for the first time, she wished she had the skill to capture such beauty with paint and brush.
Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a flash of something iridescent, like the scales of a flying fish in mid-leap. Startled, she turned her head, but saw nothing but a chain of tall rocks… and in the shadow of those rocks, a prone human form.
Linnea froze, her wimple falling from nerveless fingers. For a moment, she stood paralyzed, then forced herself to move forward. As she approached, she saw the form was a young man—little more than a boy—pale as death, with long dark hair plastered to his brow.
Had he drowned, then? Pity rose within her, and she came nearer still, knelt beside him on the sand. So young… and handsome, his features as fine and even as a classical statue’s. Well-dressed too: his clothes, though saturated with sea water, looked to be of good quality. The son of some noble house, perhaps? And how had he come here?
Linnea reached out a tentative hand to touch the young man’s cold cheek—only to snatch it away a moment later as he stirred, a faint moan issuing from between his pale lips.
Dear God, he was still alive! She hesitated, then placed her hand upon his chest, felt it rise and fall with his breath. Relief washed over her—and a renewed sense of urgency. She glanced wildly around the beach—empty as yet of all but the two of them—and raised her voice to carry as far as possible. “Help, somebody! Please, help!”
No answer. Linnea called again, pitching her voice to a near-shriek. “In Heaven’s name, help us!”
Silence. Linnea bit her lip, torn between her reluctance to leave the boy, exposed and vulnerable on the sand, and the need to seek help for him. Then the sound of her own name reached her ears.
“Linnea? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Turning her head, she saw one of her fellow postulants just venturing onto the beach.
“Dagmar!” she exclaimed thankfully. “I’ve found this boy—half-drowned. Fetch Mother Abbess, quickly!”
Dagmar’s eyes widened, but to her credit, she immediately whirled and ran back the way she had come.
Linnea returned her attention to the unconscious boy. Wake up, she willed him silently. Please wake up. Taking one cold hand in hers, she chafed his wrist, tried to coax some warmth back into his chilled flesh. Perhaps it was only wishful thinking, but she thought she could see the faintest flicker of his lashes—long, dark lashes that any girl would envy.
Encouraged, Linnea rubbed his wrist more vigorously, while humming a tune she’d heard many times from her old nurse. Beneath her fingers, she felt the beat of his pulse, thready but constant, and she fancied she could now see his chest moving up and down as he breathed.
Live. Dear God in Heaven, let him wake and live…
His eyes opened.