The mast of the newly built Pirate Queen creaked as the wind and the tide fought for hold upon the great ship. Grania O'Malley used the shifting weight of the ship to her advantage, employing it to aid her low-lunge towards Tiernan, her blade extended as part of her arm. Tiernan, ever the quick footed one, danced out of her reach, deflecting her blade with his own. His man's voice laughed in a boyish timbre, the sound lost in the crashing of near-by waves. The metal of their swords clanged out, echoing their laughter as they skipped and waltzed around one another. Grania's heavy, but sure, footing weighted her in place as Tiernan bore down on her, holding back nothing as she raised her blade to meet him. She surprised him with a great heave that tossed him nearly off his feet and sent him stumbling backwards. Knowing that he would have his balance even before she took a step forward, she came at him from the side without hesitating for a moment's time. Sure enough, Tiernan met her strike easily and twirled about to catch as she turned to face him, meeting her blade with his own and pushing it to the side before catching her up in an embrace, a smile lighting his face at the sight of her dancing eyes. The beauty of her strength struck him in that moment, and he took her up in a familiar kiss, feeling her smile against his lips. Lowering to his knees and pulling her down with him, their lips still locked, he felt himself being pushed down by Grania. Breathing heavily, the two laughed as she playfully placed the tip of her sword at the hollow of his throat.
Sighing happily, Grania tapped his chest lightly, her face triumphant as she swept back her thick auburn hair. She had won this round. She did not always, but there were days when she would best him, and Tiernan had no qualms admitting it. She was a warrior, fierce as her father, the clan Chieftain, had ever been. Tiernan was in the place to challenge the man, should he ever want the title of Chieftain- his family's offspring was next in line should the O'Malley Chieftain's line fall- but he knew better than to challenge the undefeated man. He had no yearning for the title yet, though, and he was sure as he had ever been about anything that he would marry Grania- or Grace, as those closest to her called her- one day, and then the title of Chieftain would pass to him without a challenge when Grace's father took his last breath. He was not eager to take on that load, but if it was the responsibility that came as a price for marrying the woman he loved, he would accept it with joyous heart.
His thoughts were broken when something caught Grace's eye, and she stood, slowly, looking out over the ship's railing to the sea, where the sun glinted as gold against the rise and fall of the water. Tiernan sat up, but did not rise as he watched Grace turn and stride to the new ship's helm, grasping it and looking out to sea once more, her eyes alight with the fire of dreams. Tiernan smiled gently, reveling in the sight of the woman he loved, but from whom he was separated from months at a time while at sea. Oh, this woman, stronger and braver than any he had known in his twenty-three summers. It was not unusual for her to become distracted by those dreams, to see her staring off into the distance. The hours that they spent together on whatever ship was currently at dock were the best of their lives. The men, once the ship was docked, preferred to stay on land with their families, leaving Grace and Tiernan an open place for Grace to vicariously live out her dreams of a man's life.
It would always begin with Tiernan regaling stories of his latest venture at sea for months or more, Grace clinging to his every word. As children, they began to role play, fighting with their little swords as pirate and dastardly Englishmen. As their years passed, however, and the two changed and grew, their bond had deepened. At fourteen, Tiernan had felt rather daring, and during one of their play-fights, he had Grace caught up between himself and the mast. He stole a kiss, then, light and chaste. His advance had been met with a heavy shove, a well-aimed punch to the jaw, and a leg that swept his feet out from under him all at once by a very angry Grace. He had laughed then, too, rubbing his sore face, his eyes lit with mischievousness.
They had continued on with the day as though nothing had happened, and the only thing to show for it was a decent bruise that blossomed over his jawline. He had known, though, that Grace O'Malley loved him in return, despite her response, and had relentlessly pursued her while the other boys all found their way to the whore houses and behind barns. His fellow crew teased him endlessly for his appearing lack of interest in women, but he had simply grinned and kept his mouth shut. He knew that Grace was a heady prize to seek, and he would not ruin it by blabbing it to his fellow crew members, none of whom could keep a secret. One day, he would have her to be his wife, and they would not laugh then. Well, perhaps they would- she was more a man than half of them would ever be- but he did not care. He would never forbid her from a ship, or from the sword as her father had once she turned ten. She should never be held back from being who she was, from being the woman that he had fallen in love with.
It was another two years before Grace had finally admitted her feelings in return, not by words, but by returning his forbidden kisses. That alone, had been enough for Tiernan. He had never pushed for anything more, never asked for her innocence. He knew what rested upon her virgin head, and he had no plans to soil her or her family's reputation. Oh, to be sure, his young man's mind whispered of desire every time she was in his arms, or when he thought of her while at sea…but he had been raised by his mother to be a man of honor- and that he strove to be.
Grace was coming into herself as a woman now at twenty years old, and their love was becoming harder and harder to hide. Certainly, there were those who knew, those who had seen them sneaking about the ships that had been docked and playing their games of sword, but they had not spoken on it. It was normal for there to be puppy love…and the Chieftain was not one anyone wanted to upset by delivering the news that his daughter had yet again behaving as a boy aboard a ship. Tiernan had never quite understood why acting as a boy was a worse crime than sneaking away with one, but he dared not question it. It was not his place. Not yet. Not until he was married to Grace.
Grace looked down at him now from the helm, and her face broke out in a smile, her hand extending, an invitation to join her at the wheel. Tiernan stood and climbed up behind her, placing one hand on her waist, and brushing her wavy hair from her shoulder gently before lowering his head to lay a kiss upon her neck, tasting the salt of the sea mist upon her skin. She leaned into him, one hand reaching up to rest upon his head, entwining her fingers in his own long, light brown hair. They were frozen there, for a perfect moment in time, savoring the warmth and comfort of one another.
And then the moment was gone, as they heard the cracking of oars upon the wooden walkway of the dock below. Tiernan jerked upwards, and his heart began to hammer. They had forgotten that the christening of the newly built ship on which they stood was today! He would face no consequences being on the ship without permission, but Grace would be flogged for it.
"Gone on, Grace!" he urged roughly, pushing her towards the opposite side of the ship. She would have to crawl across to the other side and reenter the ship from the back of the town crowd as though just joining them to bless the ship. He grasped an oar himself as he watched Grace disappear over the side of the Pirate Queen and he heard the laughter of the men as they climbed about first, then the women after them.
"Do you never leave the ship, Tiernan?" Grania's father, Dubhdara asked with a chuckle as he boarded his new ship. The crew poured onto the deck, more taunts following.
"He loves ships more than he ever has a woman!" laughed Ronan, the resident ginger-head of the crew.
"It's not the ship he loves! It's the mermaids, I'm sure of it!" quipped Tannod, and Tiernan whacked the man playfully on the arm with his oar, jumping aside to avoid the retaliation blow. He found himself pushed forward by Ronan again, who shouted in an obnoxious tone,
"No, it's the meremen he's after!"
Tiernan laughed as he tossed his oar aside and barreled shoulder-first into Ronan. The two tumbled to the ground, wrestling and throwing punches with enough force to bruise. The clan was now assembling on the expansive deck, and a few men and women had begun betting pieces of gold towards the fight. Letting out a hearty guffaw at the antics of his crew and clan, Chieftain Dubhdara held up his hands and called a stop to the shenanigans.
"Enough now, boys," he said in his rich voice "We've a Christening to do!"
"And a fine ship she is, Captain!" Tiernan acknowledged as he stood, untangling himself from his friend.
"Indeed she is! Let us begin!" Dubhdara exclaimed, gesturing for his wife to hand him the goblet and wine used to christen ships. The woman stepped forward, pouring wine into the goblet before stepping away. "Boys! Wake the Pirate Queen!"
All at once, the ship's crew took up their oars and began to pound the deck in a choreographed rhythm, Tiernan's heart pounding with excitement, echoing the thrumming. He glanced at Grace as the crew began to step-dance in place along with the pounding, and grinned at the rapture that showed on her face, seeing her feet half-follow the steps. She caught his eye, and they shared a nod of joy as the age-old vibrations resonated throughout the Pirate Queen's frame. It went on for some time, the minstrels of the clan milking their moment of glory, and those dancing feeling the rush of the pulsing beat. But then, all at once, it was over, when Dubhdara stepped forward, the goblet of wine raised.
"Holy God…" he began, and as he continued, the clan joined him in unison. Their words echoed and rang through the ship, and down to her hull, "Bless this ship! With pride and clan O'Malley green!" Dubhdara now raised the goblet and poured a small trickle of wine onto the deck before ceremoniously raising it to his own lips.
"I name this ship the Pirate Queen! With her, we shall rule the seas and the English shall rue the day they met the likes of her!"
The clan cheered uproariously, and with that, the ceremony was over. Everyone was now walking about, exclaiming the glory of their new ship.
"Set the pirate lady free!"
"Clan O'Malley rules the seas!"
"We'll liberate all the gold from any passing English merchant ship!"
Tiernan laughed joyously with the others, giving and receiving firm handshakes from men, and kisses from the women. His own mother approached him as the celebrating continued, and he gave her a fond kiss on the cheek, cupping her kindly face in his hands. She was no spring chicken, but she was still strong, and her eyes yet bright. She drew him into a hug before standing back to look at her boy.
"My boy… such a man you're becoming," she sighed. Tiernan let out a hearty laugh.
"Becoming? Am I not yet, in your eyes?"
"Not yet, Tiernan," she answered knowingly. "You have yet to face the trials of a man."
"And what of the battles I have been fighting at sea?" he asked, laughter still in his eyes. "I suppose those t'wern't trials at all?"
"It is not the trials of the sword that make a man, Tiernan," his mother answered with a gentle smile on her lips. "It is matters of the heart that will make a man of you yet."
Tiernan chuckled, and gave his mother another brief kiss on the cheek before feeling a tug on his shoulder. He turned, not surprised when Grace's exuberant face was standing before him.
"Isn't she a beauty?" she asked. Tiernan nodded towards her father.
"With Dubhdara at the helm, we'll be able to take any other ship in speed. She's a sleek as she is fast, as well," he added, admiring the Pirate Queen's fine railing beneath a stroke of his hand.
"I didn't realize how great she is until the ceremony! I can hear her halyards creaking as they strain against the mast! Listen! And feel that wind against my cheek! Even God blesses her with a good wind!" Grace gasped, gripping the stern where Tiernan had stroked it lovingly. "She truly awakened beneath the dancing and the oars! I've seen many ships come into this harbor… but she's the most exciting of all!"
She and Tiernan exchanged an excited look, and they clasped hands in a joyous love of the ship before continuing on from one another. They dare not linger too much about one another before the entire clan. What exactly was keeping them from confessing their love just yet, Tiernan did not know…but neither of them had felt that the time was right. Perhaps it was the concern that the clan would feel he was plotting to take the role of Chieftain earlier than was his due. Or perhaps it was because once Grace was married, she would be expected by the entire clan to behave as the lady she was born, rather than the tomboy she had become alongside an accommodating Tiernan…
Sudden shouts and exclamations roused Tiernan from his thoughts, and he spun about at Dubhdara's shouts to help Grace. Heart racing, Tiernan looked about for her, ready to leap into the sea, had she fallen overboard. But then, he spotted her, atop the crow's nest, and he stopped, grinning. Dubhdara had no clue how often his daughter had climbed those heights, sure footed as any man. He stood back as the men of the crew all rushed towards her, crossing his arms, and shaking his head, chortling to himself as Grace shouted reassurances down to her father. Gripping one of the riggings, and shouting like a child for her father to watch her, she slid down from the top to the deck, landing with one of the crew beneath her skirts. She squealed- possibly the most feminine sound Tiernan had heard out of her- and shoved Ronan away, who stumbled off, laughing.
Her father's scolding was poor and half-hearted at best, from what Tiernan could hear. Perhaps it was rude of him, but he could not help but keep one ear on the conversation between father and daughter as he was taken up in light chatter with a town elder asking about the last voyage.
"Women in their blouses…on a ship? How are the men to work with such a distraction?" Dubhdara said in response to something Grace had said. Tiernan smiled inwardly. She was at it again, begging for allowance to come on yet another voyage. He knew the outcome of this conversation- it would be the same as any other like it. He admired her fire, but he also knew that in the end, her place would always be on the shore. The Chieftain always held final say. It was not a surprise when he heard his Captain call out for him to call all women to shore.
"Women! Last good-byes!" Tiernan called out as women rushed to kiss their lads good-bye before the Pirate Queen set sail on her maiden voyage. He watched as Grace angrily looped a loose rigging rope, ignoring his call. "That means you, Grace," he said in a firm, but jesting tone. Grace stood and threw the rope to the ground in a childlike manner.
"Woman's not a word! No, woman is a sentence worse than going to jail!" she huffed, crossing her arms across her chest and jutting out her jaw in defiance. Tiernan smiled understandingly, kneeling down to pick up the rope she had tossed aside before looping it about his arm.
"And you are so much of a woman. You are strong and wild- and proud," he added with a smirk. Grace began to turn and retaliate, but her shook his head and continued. "You must always be that woman, standing fiery and unbound. I want that woman who also waits at home for me on the shore. I want to come home to that fire, Grace." He approached her now that the ship was emptying, and no one was paying any mind to them. She placed her hands on his chest to stop him before he embraced her outright.
"But I am who I am for wanting more!" Grace argued, grasping his hand between them. "I love you, Tiernan, but it all seems so unfair!"
Tiernan reeled for a moment, for it was the first time she had said the words outright, but he did not have time to think about it as his fiery woman began to roar onto one of her tangents.
"Woman I am born…but what does woman mean?" she question somberly. "If I want to taste something, to feel the warmth of a flame, is it not my right to do so without asking for permission or being told no? If I want to sail on the sea, why should I be denied it for some old wives' tale about bad luck?" Grace ranted, stepping away from him and gesturing to herself. "I have my dreams, too! I see horizon's as wide as yours, or any man's! Why must I be a nobody, have no identity till I'm some man's wife?"
Tiernan opened his mouth to stop her there, to tell her what he planned for their future, reassure her that she would not be just any man's wife, but his- but his words were cut short as she battled on with her own.
"Do I look made to milk and weave my life away, Tiernan? I will be damned if that is my life! Blasphemy, I know!" She crossed herself in an irritated fashion that Tiernan was fairly certain would be considered a sin in itself, before saying, "But I won't take it back. I won't!" Tiernan laughed as she argued with some invisible opposer, for it certainly was not him.
"I understand you," he reassured her when she took a moment to breathe. "Somehow I never pictured you knitting."
Grace wheeled about to face him now, and leaned forward against the anchor head.
"I'm your equal, Tiernan. I'm almost your age, I'm your match in size, I'm as skilled with a blade-"
Tiernan began to laugh and argue with her. True, some days she won, but when it came to it, he had the upper hand the majordy of the-
"Yes! Yes, I am, Tiernan! I've never had a chance to truly prove it, is all!" Grace interrupted. "But that's not the point! When you have a dream, you can just come aboard and live it out! Because you're man! You can go forward and fight a battle, be brave! If you – my equal- can do it, why not I?" She gestured strongly to herself, huffing. "I should be free! Free to fly if I like!"
Her voice was rising now in her fervor, and the few people left on the ship were turning to stare. Tiernan rushed to her, taking her upper arm in his hand, shushing her. She flexed her bicep, forcing his hand open, and jerked it away, leaving him surprised. He knew her strength, but it still startled him sometimes just how strong she was.
"Am I to be just woman?" she asked, staring at him with a face so defiant that he longed to lay claim to those determined lips, but he dare not. Even if they had been alone, if he had tried it now, Grace would have retaliated. He would have let her lay him out flat for it, too, though they both knew that he was one of the few who was able to best her in hand-to-hand. She walked away from him now, her voice strong and unyielding. "No! Not I, Tiernan! Not I!"
Tiernan was taken aback when she wheeled about to face him as he placed a hand on her shoulder, shushing her softly. Where those tears he saw glinting in her bright green orbs? Yes, tears of frustration. Carefully, and in a friendly manner, he gave her a one-armed hug- all that could be allowed with men still aboard the ship. He was saddened by the desperation for a life free and proud that he saw shimmering within her, and somberly, he nodded towards the dock.
"The tide is high Grace. Women ashore," he said solemnly. She nodded slowly, and leaned down to pick up a package that had yet to be tossed down to the hull-men, and placed it on her shoulder, blocking her face. Setting his jaw, understanding of her pain, but also knowing that her place in the world was laid out for her, he looked away, figuring Grace was crying all the more now, but would not want him to see, and so had blocked her face. He would respect her wish to maintain some dignity by pretending not to notice. He moved off, then, to give his last good byes to his mother, who waited at the edge of the ship.