Staring over the bow at the darkening sky, there was no mistaking what he saw ahead. Not one of those common blows so often endured around these channels, but rather, the one in front promised to be ever so much more. Diego Monteverde knew that this was one that he could not just sail around, and there was no land to be seen to the East or the West.
The first mate knew not to make polite talk when his Captain had that dark browed, iron jawed look, but he could see the storm ahead as well, and knew that his responsibility was to the ship.
“Me apologies, Captain, but that is one fierce gale ahead, and I was thinkin’ that it might be easier if we but turned the ship around, and went South toward those islands that we’d seen back down the channel.” He pointed toward the Southeast. “At the very least, we might avoid that storm’s real fury.”
“As you say, Vittorio, that is not your ordinary springtime shower ahead. But to turn around, and to lose another two day’s worth of sailing with this favorable wind. I know not.” Diego thought about it, and said, “All right then, mate, tell the pilot to slow the pace, with some tacking, and let us go down and study the maps that we have. Maybe there is land ahead, to the West that we might be able to use as a shield.”
So, below the deck, the two studied the map of this part of the channel, Vittorio indicating their current position, and Diego frowning, as he calculated the options. There appeared to be only one island somewhere to the Northwest, and the option of turning around became suddenly less attractive than ever.
“So, what you’re saying is that the wind is blowing straight up the channel now, and we’d have to tack along this line towards these islands down here. And even if we were to make it close enough to set anchor, that our chances of making it by nightfall are less than you’d even give me an even ha’penny’s chance of …”
“Aye, me Captain – you’ve about read it right.”
“Well, then, Vittorio, you know my feelings. I’ll go talk to the pilot. You go tell the lads to prepare for the storm of their lives. They should make certain that all our provisions are secured below. We could at the least make good time while we still may.”
Behind the great wheel he found the pilot, looking as he always did. Nothing ever seemed to bother Ramon – not while he was steering his ship. His steady demeanor was one that Diego had come to count on through the years.
“Ramon, what do you think?”
“About the storm? Could be a rough ride. Are ye goin’ to have me run through it, then?”
“Aye. We really have little choice. I’ve been checking the maps with Vittorio. There’s an island off to the Northwest, but that’s the only land for many miles around.”
“Well, I was thinkin’ that the western side o’the storm was the more treacherous, but that’s from here. What it’ll bring, who knows. D’ye want me then to go more t’the West?”
“Aye. But I’ll stay here with you…”
He saw that the men were beginning to carry the loose things off the decks, to the relative safety below. This was to be their first real run into bad weather on this voyage, and the men had become a little complacent with their things.
“Ah, me Captain, I see that ye’ve given the orders. Well, we’ll see just how stout they really are then, shan’t we?”
By now the Captain’s attention was already elsewhere. Staring off toward the Northwest, intently, trying to discern what it was so close to the horizon. He was trying to determine whether his eyes were playing tricks on him, or whether there really was something.
“Tell me, Ramon, off toward the horizon, do ye see anything a bit off, or unusual, or is it just my own eyes? That’s not on the map, but I swear, I see something.”
“Oh, aye, Captain, there be something. I too see it. But what, I cannot say. If it be land, it’s likely an island. If not, then I know not what to think.”
“Well, head for it then. I shall send one of the men up top, see if he can determine, before this weather comes down upon us, just what it is that we’re looking at.”
A seaman was sent up to see what he could find. He shouted down to the Captain, “Looks like land in the distance… about thirty degrees Nor’west!”
Diego signaled him down, and when he was back, he asked, “Could ye tell if it was an island?”
“Nay, Captain, I could’na tell. But what I could see, told me that it’s at least somethin’ big.”
“Well, me mates, then that would be where we shall be headed. So get ye ready, for it’ll be a rough one.”
Ramon and Diego could now tell the storm was coming, as the waves got bigger, and the smell of the air, carrying that electrically charged ozone essence got their attention. The wind shifted, bringing the first of the rain, starting as just heavy drops, but soon, as the weather changed, the storm hit with its full fury. The ship was tossed about in the massive waves. The pilot kept their course ever Northwest and toward the island of mystery. It became too dark to see, and the wind was now a gale, with the rain howling sideways. The sails were straining, and threatening to tear, in the ever-shifting direction of the wind. Wordlessly, the pilot signaled his Captain, who nodded, and gave the order, then the sailors took down the sails, expertly, quickly, knowing full well that they were putting their ship at the will of the storm.
For the next hour they were thrown about mercilessly at the whims of the sea and the storm. Their rudder holding fast, but their progress could not be known to anyone on board the ship. And then with one savage wave coming from the starboard bow, came that awful crashing sound that signaled the mainsail had given way, and was just dangling, and swinging dangerously above their heads.
The Captain and the pilot just looked at one another, each with his own sense of unease. If anything, the storm grew fiercer, and the feeling aboard the ship began to reek of panic. There was nothing that any of the men could do, and they all knew it. They were down below, just riding out the rocking, chaotic motions of the ship. Ramon had long since tied his wheel down, and went with the captain below, knowing it was safer there, than to risk being thrown overboard.
The men were not easily thrown into panic, but a number of them prayed fervently to the saints for protection. Diego knew that his mainsail was now useless, and they were in the middle of the channel, with little hope of help, let alone any chance of repairing his ship.
While he sat, looking out at his men, with nothing to offer, he saw her beckon to him. There she was, this incredible waif of a girl, who looked fearlessly at him, her hair blowing freely in the wind. She looked to be no more than nine or ten, and there arose from her face a subtle glow, which permeated the dark confines of the ship. He got up and went toward her. She waited for him in the corner, and as he came close, she spoke, her voice resonant with age.
“Come, Diego Monteverde. I shall show you what you must do. This is not to be your last voyage, but it shall be the last for your men and your ship. You may do what you might, but this you may not change. Come up with me.”
He found himself following her instructions, as if he had no will to refuse. The two of them climbed back up the narrow stairway to the main deck. What he was able to see told him of the savagery of the storm, with the forward mast now down, and the railing shattered, as the ship rocked in the waves like a piece of driftwood.
“Now, tell me, what must I do?” He shouted to the girl, across the howling winds and rain.
She spoke as one completely unafraid, not shouting, but simply stating, “Follow me.”
In the darkness, the wet, the wind of the storm, Diego followed her into the sea.
At the dock, now called Reordan’s Folly, the children looked out and saw the storm. To them this was just the perfect time to be fishing. It was annoying to have a girl with them, but that was a minor irritation to Rupert, who had been charged with her safekeeping.
“Oh look, ye’ve got one,” she squealed. “I think it’s a big ‘un. Oh yes, it’s a big ‘un, fo’ sure.”
Rupert felt the pulling on his pole, and realized his sister was right. If they could land this one, they would all have fish tonight. For the next few minutes Rupert enthusiastically fought the fish on his line, and then when he had gotten it close to the dock, his cousin Ian helped him land the fish. This was the largest fish he had ever caught. What a sight for his mother this was going to be tonight. Yes, they’d have fish for certain tonight. He deftly worked the hook out of the mouth of the flounder. His father would be proud, but he was away, doing his duty. He looked again at the expertly carved hook, made from a seashell. He was proud of the way he had used the twine, and made it strong.
When he looked up, he noticed that his sister was no longer with them. He saw her down by the end of the pier. He told his cousin to watch his pole and not to let the fish get away, and he took off at a run.
“Alexandra!” he called, “Wait! What d’ye think ye’re doin’? Where ye goin’?”
When he caught up to his sister. He found her gesticulating wildly, pointing out to the sea, toward the storm that was racing toward them.
“What is it? What d’ye see?”
“There! See, out there in the clouds… Don’t ye see it?”
Rupert knelt down and looked to where his little sister pointed.
“Nay. What d’ye see?”
“The light. In the cloud, and the sea. Oh, and now it’s gone.”
It began to rain. And very soon the children were soaked. Rupert didn’t know what to think or say. When they got back to the pier, they found to their dismay that Ian had let their fish escape. In a pique, Rupert gathered his fishing pole, and stormed off toward home. Alex and Ian trudged along behind. The rain was now blowing sideways, and they had a hard time even keeping their feet.
When they got home, they found that Mum was not the least bit pleased with any of them.
“Oh, may the saints preserve me. Now is this what ye’d call takin’ care of your little sister?”
“Well there’d better be a good explanation, me young man.”
“Rupert caught a fish!” Put in Alex. “It was a big ‘un. It was this big.”
“Well, then, if ye caught such a fish, where is it?”
“We had it up on the dock, and then Ian let it go back into the water.”
And so, as Peggy got to wiping off the children with some dry cloths, they related the tale of their afternoon’s adventure, with Rupert’s heroic catch, and Alex’s running off the pier in search of her mysterious light.
“Why I’d say that you had quite an afternoon.” She said, as she held on to Alex, and rubbed her dry. “Now what of this light?”
Alex pointed in the direction of the sea. “Oh, Mama, ‘twas a light, out in the ocean, inside the storm.”
Peggy nodded, still holding her little girl. “And what did it look like t’ye, little lady?”
“The light was blue, and was moving like this,” she gestured with her hand.
“And now it’s storming, and ye’re in here safe. And even though we didn’t get that fish, we have each other, no?”
The smells from the kitchen caught Rupert’s attention.
“Mum, is that meat pie that ye’re makin’? It smells so good that maybe ‘tis a good thing that I did’na bring home that fish.”
“Indeed it is. You see, I saw Clarice today, in the market, and when she saw me, she gave me some of her pieces of mutton, said to be sure to feed her own and my little ones today.”
“And how was me ma?” asked Ian.
“Fine as ever,” Peggy lied. How much do you tell a five-year old boy? How much could he possibly understand?
It was later that night when Alex crept over to her brother’s bed.
“Rupert,” she whispered, “it’s there again.”
“What is?” He whispered back. “Now that you’ve got me awake, what d’ye mean?”
“The light. Come over to the window, and look out… Ye can see it now.”
“There, over by the sea”
He looked, and for just a brief moment, he could see a blue light, flickering, before it went dark.
“Did ye see it? And now it’s gone dark.”
“Aye, sis, I did.”
As he then headed back to his bed, Alex stopped him.
“Now, don’t ye think we should look?”
“And why would I think that?”
“That was no normal light. I think that we’re meant to go see it.”
Rupert stared at his sister. He could see her eyes, glistening in that faint sheen of moonlight. This was not the look of a frail little girl. This was the look of someone who meant what she said. So Rupert got down quietly from the windowsill and the two of them got another lantern, and lit it. They got their cloaks, still wet from the evening’s storm, and without saying another word crept out into the still of the night.
They made their way carefully down toward the pier. The night was clear and cool. Far off they heard the howl of a wolf. Rupert held the lantern. The patter of their feet on the wooden planks was almost drowned by the sound was of the waves, still crashing hard after the storm. There was no one else about this night.
Alex led the way, certain of where she was going. Her brother followed, one step behind. When they got to the end of the pier, they got down, creeping carefully on to the slippery rocks, then over to the large boulder. Alex climbed up onto the boulder, and then she looked out to the sea. Not certain of what she was looking for, but sure that she was to be here. Rupert came up beside her, and looked as well.
“D’ye know what ye’re lookin’ for?”
“Nay, I don’t. But I know it’s out here somewhere. I know that as sure as I know me own name.”
He wondered what happened to the little sister he was to protect. These were not the musings of a six-year old girl.
“There, down there. I see it. It is somethin’. Come on brother, come wi’ me.”
When they got down to the water’s edge they could see the dark form. Fearlessly, Alex ran down. When she got to the shape, she turned to her brother, and shouted, “It’s a man! He’s cold and wet, but breathin’. Help me get ‘im up to land.”
The two children pulled hard, but found it impossible to move him onto land. They did manage to turn him over, and then, timing their efforts with the crashing waves, got his trunk onto land, but his legs were still in the cold water of the sea. They noticed that he was yet breathing, but would not arouse. He did not seem to be bleeding, but they could tell little else.
“Tell me, what do we do now? We canna’ just leave him here…”
“I’ll stay with him. Brother, ye go get some help.”
“Leave ye here, outside? Oh, Alex, I canna’ do that.”
“Brother, we’ll be aw’right. I know this to be true.”
Again, this was not just his sister speaking. There was something else, someone else.
“Well, I’ll leave this lantern with ye. I can see aw’right wi’ the moon. I’ll go to get help.”
Rupert thought about this, as he left, and somewhat against his better judgment, decided that he’d go to his uncle’s house, and summon help.
When he got to the house of Malcolm, he was out of breath. He rapped on the door, and waited. He rapped again. Malcolm came to the door, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.
“Rupert! Whatever are ye doin’ here at this time of night? Is your mother all right?”
“Oh, aye, sir. Me Mum’s fine. But there’s been a man who’s washed up on shore, and could use yer help.”
“Ye say there’s a man washed up? Is he alive?”
“Oh, aye, sir. Or he was when I left him. But he’s not doin’ any good, no good at all.”
Malcolm then went back in, got his cloak, an extra blanket, a lantern, and woke his own son to come help. The three of them then hurried down the way Rupert led them. They went quickly down to the pier, then over the rocks down to the shore.
They found there a most unusual sight. Sitting on the rocks was Alex, cradling the head of the man from the sea. She was singing to him, singing gently a song that she knew, a song of the sea, the waves and the breezes of spring.