Tiernan stood on the lookout that evening, his sharp blue eyes raking the horizon. He was on edge, feeling a storm approaching. The skies had been blessedly clear when they set out on their voyage, but no more than an hour after their outset, he had begun to taste the thick, salty air of a pre-storm cover. Looking out ahead, there was a red tint to the sky, and he knew it was well that they should be wary. He had noted this to Dubhdara, who had set out the word for the crew to be at the ready, and Tiernan had volunteered to take the crow's nest. He trusted his fellow crew members, but they all knew he had the best eye on the ship.
He had been in the crow's nest for near of six hours now, but he cared not for the discomfort of the small area and its few comforts. Up here, he could overlook the ship and her crew. Here, he could be alone to his thoughts. Here he could be alone with Grace, if he quieted his mind. Feeling the breeze, heavy as it was with moisture, brush his hair back, he could imagine they were Grace's fingers stroking lightly. He had hardly been away from her but a day, and here he already found himself daydreaming for her. He had perfected the art of day dreaming while continuing to scan the horizon. He dared not close his eyes, nor gaze off blindly. He must always be alert and aware, for the sake of his crew. Their safety was his responsibility when he was atop the crow's nest. He would not allow his thoughts to distract him, and this the crew knew, trusting his eagle's eyes to the utmost.
It was that eye that spotted the odd boy aboard that he and been aware had joined the crew before they set out. Being second-charge to Dubhdara, he was always in the know of any new boy come to the age of joining their crew, yet here was a teenage boy being ordered about by the crew. It was odd enough that he had not been told that a crew member had been listed in, but the fact that the boy was largely built and was clearly some seven years older than the average listing age, left him suspicious. Most boys, as he had, joined at the age of ten to accustom them to a ship early in life. Clan O'Malley was a fair size community, but it was not so large that he would not have noticed a boy due to enlist at such an old age, unusual as it was. He watched the stranger move, and something tickled the back of his mind, teasing him. Something about the boy's movements was familiar, but where had he seen the boy before?
A flash of light caught his attention, and he jerked his attention out ahead. The sky ahead of them was bruised purple and red, heavy clouds having formed at an unusually fast rate since he had last looked out at the. Another flash touched the water ahead, and he flew into action. Damn! He should have paid closer attention. He had spotted it in time to warn the men had it been a normal storm, and though the speed of the gathering clouds denoted a brief storm, they were looking at an extremely sudden and volatile battle. Chastising himself inwardly for not noticing what they were facing sooner, he unleashed the storm warning.
"STORM AHEAD! STORM AHEAD!"
The Pirate Queen's crew paused upon his first call, and as a unit, flew into action as he unleashed the second. His duty during a storm was to secure the cannon, and so he grasped onto a rigging rope, glad he had worn his gloves, and allowed himself to slide down. The storm slammed into the ship viciously. Caught off guard, Tiernan was knocked backward by the gale-force winds that struck the ship with a mighty blow. Fighting to his feet against the icy rain that pelted them suddenly, Tiernan stumbled sideways as the ship rocked to the side violently. He vainly put his arm before his eyes to clock the wind and rain, seeing through blurry eyes the sails catching the winds.
"Down the sails!" he cried out desperately, hoping that the crew could hear him over the howling gusts. "Down the sails or we'll capsize!"
Yet even as he said it, he could vaguely make out the form of someone hanging peerlessly from the sail mast, cutting the lines. He would only hope the man could care for himself up there- he had cannon to secure. He found his way through a hoard of scrambling men shouting obscenities to one cannon after another, deftly tying ropes he could not see. His hands knew ropes well, and despite the slick rain, he only lost his fingering on two knots. The rain was lessening now, and as he secured the last of the cannon, he felt relief as the wind slowed to a breeze, and the rain to a drizzle as quickly as it had come. He fell back against the cannon, exhausted, and watched as the dangerous clouds rolled and thundered away from them.
Beside him dropped a body from above- presumably the crew member that had downed the sail and saved them all. He glanced down, and realized that it was the unnamed boy he had noticed earlier. He padded the boy's shoulder, smiling,
"Well, lad, you certainly-"
It was then that the boy looked up at him, and he was struck to the bone when his eyes met Grace's. Tiernan gaped wordlessly, dropping to his knees before her. Well, that explained why he had not known where the boy had come from- and why he had moved in such a familiar way. He would have recognized her movement among women, or anywhere he had known she was to be- but he had never expected to see her aboard a sailing ship, though Lord knew she knew her way about the vessel well enough. But to have snuck aboard the ship! Her father would be furious, but by God, she had saved them all!
"Grace! My God, it's you!" he exclaimed as she proudly tore off her hat and her tresses fell from beneath it.
"What's a wench doing on board?" one of the crew shouted from behind Tiernan as the rest of the crew erupted in shouts of mixed excitement, anger. Tiernan stood and turned to face Tannod, who was walking forward, his face contorted with anger. Tannod was a solid friend, and a loyal crew member, but a superstitious one. He strongly believed that women had their place- in the home, and certainly never aboard a ship. Tiernan took a step forward now as well, squaring his shoulders and blocking Tannod's path.
"Take care with your tongue, Tannod," he warned, hardening his voice. He was not as tall or thickly built as the man he stared down now, but he held more respect among the crew as second charge. The tree-trunk of a man glared ahead past Tiernan, eyes fixed upon Grace, who was now twirling about, laughing and raising the dagger she had cut the sail's stays with, gloating in the praise of less superstitious crew members, some of which were clapping her on the back.
"Women are bad luck on a ship. Everyone knows that! We must be rid of her before she sinks us," Tannod growled. Tiernan put a restraining hand upon his friend's shoulder, gripping it tightly.
"That's Dubhdara's daughter you're threatenin', Tannod," Tiernan cautioned, jerking his thumb towards Dubhdara's cabin, his voice dropping into deep lower registers he rarely used but to bring one of the crew to respect. It neared a growl, rumbling from some deep chasm few knew existed within Tiernan's build. He was not a small man, his frame was solid and lean- the rest of sailing his entire life, but nor was he the burly build that was typical of half the crew.
"But surely the girl deserves the whip at the very-," Tannod started again, but Tiernan had had enough.
Tannod flinched when Tiernan's fingertips dug into the soft part of the joint, affectively breaking his fixation on Grace and bringing his attention to Tiernan. Tiernan drew himself up to his full height and glared his friend in the eyes, his own grey blue orbs flashing.
"Tannod, you are a friend, but dunnae test it," he spoke without any warmth to his voice. "If you so much as lay a hand upon Grace, I will personally see you keel-holed. D'ya understand me?"
Tannod stopped short now, caught off-guard. His friend had never before had to pull rank on Tannod, much less spoke to his in such a cold, threatening tone, and Tiernan was relying upon that to bring his point across. Apparently, it had worked, because Tannod shrunk a step back, jerking his shoulder from Tiernan's sailor's grip upon his shoulder. Then he laughed, first to himself, and then aloud.
"That's it! That's why you never took any girls with the rest of us," he mumbled now, leaning forward and speaking in a hushed tone. "It's the Dubhdara's girl for you! Are ya mad, Tiernan?"
Tiernan drew back, stepping away now that the danger had passed. He said nothing, clenching his jaw. He was an honest man, and he could not deny what was true, but neither could he betray Grace. It was at her insistence that they had kept their love to themselves, and he would not act against her wishes. Shaking his head, he turned away. He could say nothing without condemning himself to crew and love. He began to step away, but Tannod grabbed at his wrist, holding him fast.
Tiernan wheeled about, once again facing his friend down with the tone of rebuke, though he did not twist out of his friend's hand. He could have, and they both knew it. Despite being a head shorted than the trunk of a man that Tannod was, Tiernan was the more skilled in hand to hand combat, but Tiernan was attempting to step back from the protective anger that had swelled within him. He did not want to say or do anything that he would regret out of a rush of testosterone.
"Leave it, Tannod!" he snapped. Reproached, Tannod released Tiernan's wrist and stepped back, watching Tiernan make his way to the rest of the helm to ensure that the Pirate Queen was still on course. From there, he could also watch the outcome of the confrontation between Grace and her father, as well. He listened to their conversation- which the entire crew pretended not to hear, but all of which were ease-dropping intently.
Part of him desperately wanted to intervene there as well, stepping between Dubhdara and his daughter. Their Chieftain was not a cruel man, but he was a stern Captain, and as the man was currently saying himself, one unafraid to due out punishment to any sailor that stepped out of line. The punishments were never anything more than deserved, but they were never anything less, either. The whip rarely went unused in these cases, and Grace had committed a serious offense, Dubhdara explained to his daughter, who sat, chin raised proudly. Not only had she impersonated a man and stowed away on a ship, but atop these actions, she had also embarrassed not just her father, but the Chieftain of the clan. For Dubhdara to ignore this, proud as he may be, was risking shattering any respect that the men of the clan and crew had for him.
Tiernan's hands gripped the wheel of the helm, his breath catching in his chest painfully as his Captain and Chieftain spoke these words. Would Dubhdara really…? Part of him did not doubt that this strong leader would dole out punishment to any that broke the clan laws, yet still, he had a soft spot for his daughter, and the clan was well aware of it. Would he use this to prove he could still be the impartial leader- or would he give into his love for his daughter? Tiernan fought the urge to dash down and beg mercy for Grace. This was her battle. He could not fight her father for her.
He felt relief flood through him, though, when Dubhdara's frame softened slowly but surely, and finally, he hung his head in defeat. Tiernan's heart skipped a nervous beat when his name was called out.
Tiernan was already hallway to them by the time his name was finished, having leapt over the helm railing to the deck. He came skidding to a halt before his Captain, who gave him a side long glance, noticing Tiernan's eagerness as he walked away from his daughter to speak to his first mate.
"My daughter will be staying with us. As part of the crew, God and crew forgive it," his Captain stated, eyeing him carefully.
"Dubhdara?" Tiernan could not keep the eagerness, the relief, and the hopefulness from his voice. The Chieftain shrugged, tossing up his hands in surrender and laughed, clasping Tiernan's shoulder.
"Give her duties."
"Aye, Captain!" Tiernan agreed, unable to conceal his joy, and rushing off.
Dubhdara chuckled as the young man dash off, practically skipping. Shaking his head, he crossed his arms, musing to himself. What an old softy he was turning into. He had seen the love for his daughter in Tiernan's eyes some seasons ago. He had been aware of his daughter's feelings shortly after noticing that the two would disappear from the rest of the clan for long periods during the days when the crew was back on land. He fully approved of their union, and had no plans of stopping it- it was a fine match. He also trusted Tiernan, of any of the young men in the clan, to care for and respect his Grace, the way she should be. She was as stubborn as he, and as fiery as her mother, and it would take an equally stubborn and understanding man to love her the way he had loved Grace's mother. He had no doubt that Tiernan would make a fine husband for his daughter.
He knew why they did not speak of it to the himself or the clan. In doing so, Tiernan would be sworn to taking Dubhdara's place as Chieftain with no chance of escaping the responsibility, and Grania…she would be tied down by expectations. Expectations he had now tossed aside as a dead carcass by allowing her to sail freely with the crew of the Pirate Queen. Dubhdara only prayed that neither would lose their lives at sea or in battle before they two finally had the courage to admit their union.