The call of the sea is both beautiful & challenging, as one woman dares to dream
| The sea called. Its voice was strong; the mighty rush of waters allowed the wind to carry it’s song. Of course many hear the song, listen to it’s voice with a dreamy gaze at it’s roar and foam, but eventually they turn away. There are a few who, when listening intently hear something more: a whisper, a name-whatever it be-and not only hear but ‘feel’ the sound. That sound becomes a call and that call sinks into the blood and bone, touching the heart, and it’s voice never leaves you alone.
I am one of those few who have listened, and I long to answer the call.
However, as a woman, I am bound to the land. Very few women, in my era, have dared to venture to the sea and fewer still are those have got away with it . The sailors hold fast to the age old belief that to take a woman aboard a ship brings a curse on the ship and crew.
As nonsensical as it may sound to those on land, sailors rather risk the dark looks of a woman than their ship.
‘Course, we all know the stories of Gráinne Máille, the fearless pirate Chieftain. Anyone with sense knows she held no curse, indeed, she brought renown and honour to the O’Malley clan and, in many respects, to Éirn. She was well feared by enemy and acquaintance. The British certainly didn’t know how to handle her! As for me, I’m a century late, but sure, that didn’t stop me from sneaking onto my father’s merchant ship when I was a child. I figured if Gráinne Máille could do it and start her career when she was young, couldn’t I at least try?
In the end, I only answered my father and, thankfully for him, I was discovered before they were far from shore. In humiliation, I was sent back home.
That was ten years ago. Now, I am a young woman in my own right. My father, although retired from his career, continues in business with his own shipping company that imports exotic items from far-off lands. It’s also his wish for me to marry. ‘The natural course’ he calls it, but in my mind the only marriage I want is to the sea.
Many look at the sea as a barrier, but I see it as a gateway to freedom and adventure.
While my father could not allow me to be a sailor, he sought reconciliation by pledging my hand to a Captain under his command. Captain Michael O’Neil was a tall, handsome man who cut his stubble of a beard regularly, had eyes the colour of the sea on a cloudy day, and kept everything as orderly as a man could. For a woman, he wold be the perfect man.
But I am not a ‘proper’ woman and I have no desire to marry the ‘good Captain’, as father calls him. I long for so much more than this mundane existence. However, in the deepest part of my heart, I know it is not to be.
Aoife gazed longingly at the sea as the sun began it’s slow descent down, casting a ruddy hue to the waters. While many boats had come to set anchor on this September night, a few fishermen were preparing to set sail for the evening catch. In the distance, a few gulls shared their cries with the shouts of the sailors and it was as music to Aoife’s ears. It was all she could do to not sneak aboard when the men weren’t looking, as she had done as a child.
No, she would need to board a ship that would take her farther away from Éirnn’s shores, even if it were just for awhile. With a sigh, she finally turned away, leaving her dreams behind as well as the swell of the seas’s waves.
With Captain Michael unabashedly gazing at her throughout the course of dinner, Aoife found it hard enough to sit and eat quietly. Her thoughts were spinning, and her stomach was churching: in one month’s time she was to be married to this man. The good Captain was more than delighted with the way his fortune was going and her parents just so. It appeared only Aoife had fault with this match, but her thoughts were not to be heard.
She also appeared to be the only one who was feeling the pendulum of time.
“A new dress” Mother was saying, which suddenly caught her attention.
“Dress?” Aoife repeated, tuning into the conversation.
“For your wedding lass. Surely, it’s about time you had a new one, and a wedding is a perfect occasion” she looked at father who nodded his assent. Captain Michael beamed his approval,
“although I am sure Aoife will look fair in whatever she wears” the Captain added in quickly.
The conversation of the upcoming nuptial only increased Aoife’s frustration. She quickly excused herself after the meal, feigning a ‘sore head’ and, after assuring everyone that she just needed to rest, escaped to her room. Opening the window, she breathed deeply the night air, fresh with the smell of the sea and willed herself away.
Anywhere but here she thought, listening to the waves of the sea.
There must be a way out. There must be higher law to appeal to.
Shouts in the night wakened Aoife with a start.
Something isn’t right was her first thought as she there the covers off her bed. Quickly, Aoife felt for the matches on her night stand and lit up the room with her bedside candle, casting shadows on the wall. More shouting could be heard from outside and, not caring about her appearance, Aoife rushed out to see what was happening.
Setting aside her candle on the table by the front door, she stepped outside to see men streaming bby in the distance with torches, heading down to the shore. Not wanting to be caught, Aoife ran to the cliff side and looked down to the cove. Remnants of a ship were being swept to shore and, not far off near the rocks, she could see the ship that was sinking fast. Some cargo was also slowly bobbing it’s way to shore and already men were daring the frigid waters to get to it. By Celtic law any could plunder a ship that had been wrecked near Érinn’s shore. For a woman still under her father’s roof, and soon to be married, Aoife’s could hardly care about the cargo. But another cry and a sight by a nearby torch, caught her attention.
“Could it be?” she whispered into the darkness. Crouching down, Aoife went as close to the cliff edge as she dared to get a better look at the shore. Another man with a torch held high also caught sight, and proved what Aoife had guessed: there, lying face up on the sand was a man. His eyes were closed and his body was deathly still.
With a few more shouts at some passing by, a few men had gathered and were not surrounding the figure, pounding his chest and checking his pulse.
“Aoife!” her father’s voice from behind quickly grabbed her attention. She looked up, startled, as her father ran to her, face stern and eyes ablaze with irritation. “What are you doing out here? Get inside!”
“There’s a man down there” she said standing, as if that explained everything.
“There are many men down there. Now get ye inside!”
Aye-but a survivor!” she pointed to the group of men on the shore.
He glanced down and his eyes quickly scanned the scene but still he turned away and ushered her toward the house, “even so” was his gruff reply, his tone implying there was to be no more arguing. Defeated, Aoife obliged, but her thoughts were already spinning with curiosity.
While it should have been no surprise to her, Aoife’s home fairly filled with talk of their ‘new occupant.’ Once Aoife has pointed out the survivor to her father, he immediately went down to the shore to retrieve the young man.
“He is the only one” her father told them one morning. “Two others were found further down the coast, but they were sadly dead.”
“Pity” her mother sniffed, “and there is no indication of who they are?”
Her father shook his head, “no, we have no choice but to wait until this one recovers.”
“He could be a pirate for all we know” her mother said, of course jumping to the worse conclusion.
“Ach well, we’ll just hope for the best.”
Pirates! Aoife’s heart pounded. Surely not! But in a strange way, excitement filled her at the thought
By the second day, the man was awake. After examination the doctor had declared that the sailor had managed to break two of his ribs in the wreck, and he bore a nasty gash on his upper arm which was quickly bound tight. But he was speaking, and that, in Aoife’s mind, was most important.
Through her father, she fond out his name was Éoin and he was from Connacht. His ship had been on its way back from Londain when it had been steered off course and hit the rocks. As to his business in England, they still did not know.
Finally, by the fifth day, while her father was away on business and her mother was occupied with a friend, Aoife managed to sneak into the room to speak to the sailor. While he was lying in bed, he was awake and turned his face towards her as she entered. Aoife quickly noticed the bruising around his left eye and a nasty scratch on his upper lip, but his eyes were the colour of sea green. They shone brightly while an expression of curiosity suddenly fixed itself on his face.
“You are new” he said, his voice was deep, though soft. Without responding, she poured him a glass of water and handed it to him, watching as he drank deeply.
“My name is Aoife” she finally said once he was finished.
“I’m called Éoin. Please tell me, as I have forgotten quickly, what county I am in?”
“We are just off the coast in Wexford.”
“Wexford” he mused, “then I am just on the other side of Erin.
From his accent, Aoife knew without a doubt that he had spoken the truth of where he was from, for she had heard other sailors speak from Galway. So far, so good.
“Will you tell me what your business in Londain was?” she dared to ask.
His eyes seemed to cloud over at her question, “in truth, I rather not share. T’was personal.”
Before she could respond, a servant walked in and, taking in the scene, gave out a light gasp,
“my lady, you should not be in here, unattended.”
“My lady?” Éoin questioned.
“Hush Sarah-do not speak of this to father. I simply wanted to meet our guest in person.” Aoife stood, and, giving a curt nod to Éoin, quickly left before another comment could be made.
Aoife had much to ponder over that day and night, while her imagination ran as it willed. Dutiful Sarah kept her lips shut but Aoife decided against another sneak attempt. By the next day she had decided that Éoin was either a pirate or an Irish rebel. She had heard reports of men sneaking about to collect arms against their British invaders but had never meet one. Either way, she was sure Éoin had some exciting life and she longed to be part of it. But of course, anyone who had the freedom to traverse the seas had a better life than her.
To her surprise the next evening Éoin joined them for their dinner. He had been cleaned and his face, which had been shaved, was firm with a chin that jutted out; and she could see now how his hair, the colour of sand after it rained, curled around the nape of his neck. In all, Aoife thought him most handsome and her gaze travelled to meet his more than once throughout the course of their meal.
At least, she mused, Michael is not here. He would have been enraged to see her give attention to another man. Talk was light around the table, her father keeping to the subject of his ships, and her mother, not wanting to ‘tire the good man out’ kept the conversation on a surface level of ‘the weather,’ Éoin’s family, and asking about ‘London society.’
However, after the table had been cleared and they had moved to the parlour, her father finally broached the subject they all wanted to know most about:
“what business took you to Londain?”
As Aoife had seen the last time when she had asked the same question, Éoin’s eyes clouded, but this time his expression changed to that of someone perplexed…or was it calculating?
“While I appreciate all that you have done, I’m afraid that I cannot answer that question properly…it is personal and of a sensitive manner.” His eyes suddenly went to mine.
“I see” my fathered answered and cleared his throat uncomfortably.
Footsteps suddenly echoed from the hallway and Captain Michael unexpectedly walked in.
“Michael!” Mother exclaimed as if she hadn’t seen him in months. “You’re most welcome! Join us.”
“I don’t mean to intrude” the good Captain said, his eyes sweeping in the scene before him, “I came to see if your guest was up and about.”
“Sure, you can see for yourself” father answered, and Éoin slowly stood to clasp the Captain’s hand. But even so he seemed awkward, his posture almost tense, as if greeting an old foe. In turn, Michael’s expression became inquisitive.
“Do I know you?”
“Not that I am aware of” Éoin answered.
Seeing as you are both seamen, mayhap in passing at some port?” Father offered.
“Could be” Michael said, although he seemed unsettled.
The good Captain stayed for only a short time, his thoughts obviously a distraction from company. Aoife couldn’t help but feel relief when he left, allowing her to return her full attention to their mysterious guest. A good hour passed as the three sat in companionship before a warm fire. Éoin and father fell into discussion as to the best route to get Éoin home to Galway, when Captain Michael suddenly reappeared.
“A pirate!” he shouted, sword in hand and startling all in the room. Father leapt to his feet,
“I beg your pardon?”
“This rogue is a pirate!” he swung his sword toward Éoin, as well as his accusation. “I have seen his likeness and heard his description before and it came to my mind as I sat among some companions in the tavern. He has been wanted for some months now for theft and destruction of his highness’ navy.”
Her Father now wavered between wanting to defend his guest and yet wishing to trust the words of his long-time friend and future son-in-law. Meanwhile, Aoife felt her heart skip a beat in excitement while her mother’s face drained of colour.
“Is this true?” Aoife’s was barely able to form the words.
“It was once” Éoin admitted, “but no more.” He stood abruptly, “however it may best for me to take my leave. I do appreciate all that-“
“-Liar!” Michael interrupted, “I know for a fact that you have been charged for piracy and treason! I visited a few officers but twenty minutes ago this night to confirm that the charges are still effective.”
“It has been dropped!” Éoin stated, his eyes sparking with anger. “I was with his majesty these last few days and after lengthy discussion and monetary exchange, the charges are dropped. I am not in his majesties employment” he looked to father, “Release forms were given to prove that what I say is true, however they were ruined in the wreck.”
Everyone looked to Aoife’s father, waiting to hear his judgement.
“If that be true, then you would have no problem with me writing to the magistrate, who will verify your words.”
After slight hesitation, Éoin nodded his assent, and the room seemed to empty of its tension.
“Of course we will provide all that you need for your stay here” father continued.
“Stay?” Eoin echoed the word and his expression became rigid.
“Aye, I am in the employment of his majesty and in good conscious could not let you leave until we know the truth of your words.”
“A reply could take weeks!”
“I’m aware, but surely this will all clear up soon” his tone was final-no more could be said. Out of the corner of her eye Aoife caught Captain Michael with the shadow of a smirk on his lips, clearly pleased with himself.
Sleep eluded Aoife that night, no matter how much she tried to get comfortable in her bed, her mind would not let her rest. Between Éoin’s deflated look and the Captain’s smirk, something did not seem right.
Finally, she threw away the blankets, wrapped her shawl around her and slipped out into the night. The sweet sound of the waves crashing against the shore seemed to soothe her mind and the light of the moon became her companion on the cliff-edge looking out to sea. It’s light was bright and full, giving a clear view around her-and movement suddenly caught her eye down on the shore below. A lone figure was pushing one of her father’s fishing boats into the sea.
But who of father’s men would be out now? She wondered, when the answer suddenly dawned on her. That was no fisherman!
“Wait!” she shouted and ran down to the cove. But the wind and waves drowned out her plea.
“Wait Éoin, please!” she called again. This time he paused, hearing his name just rise above the sound of the waves. He looked back and finally caught the outline of her figure as she ran toward him.
“Please Éoin, I need to speak to you!”
He waited, until she caught her breath, a few steps away from him:
“It will take weeks to hear from the magistrate and I need to return to my kin” he said while she caught her breath. “There are wives and mothers who deserve to know what happened to their husbands; clansmen who need an explanation and these are things I won’t tell in a letter-nor can I if I wanted to.”
“It’s alright Éoin” Aoife finally said, “I only ask that you take me with you!” the words seemed to startle even her, so quickly had they tumbled out. “I-I cannot stay here. I am to be married to the Captain and you saw yourself tonight how he is.
‘Besides I am meant for the sea-I have always dreamed of being a sailor. Please!”
“You’re mad!” he exclaimed and then chuckled, “fine enough I can see your situation, and I don’t envy you! But I cannot take you from here, it would only serve to strengthen their accusations against me.”
“I can write! I’ll write a letter and explain your innocence but please, take me with you! Aoife could hear the desperation in her own voice and, for one fleeting moment, Éoin seemed to be considering her words.
“Listen lass” he began, seeing how serious she really was, “at one time, I would have done as you asked. But I have met my Creator who has transformed me, and asked me to live an upright and just life. Truly, if I could help you, I would. But I can not-and ‘in good conscious’-as your father says-do what you ask.
‘Now I know my name is clear so I can leave tonight. In a month’s time I promise your father will have his boat returned-and you can tell him that I said so. But that is all I can do. I am sorry” and she could tell her genuinely meant it.
“Mayhaps good will come out of your arrangement. I have no doubt there is purpose in our meeting.”
Sliding the boat onto the water, he quickly jumped in and then turned to face her once more on the shore, “our paths may yet cross again!” he called.
A loneliness that she could not explain filled Aoife as she watched his boat drift off into thee vast darkness, where sky and sea meet. But for the rest of the night, she pondered the meaning of his words.
While father was angry with Éoin’s actions, his anger quickly turned into frustrated disappointment as I recounted all that had happened. In the end, the ‘good Captain’ appeared angrier than father.
“But how could you” he asked me. “When you know full well the charge against him?”
“He is innocent” I countered, “and if he wasn’t, he would have taken me with him. No pirate would pass that up!” the words came unbidden but somehow, I didn’t regret them. At their bafflement, I then told them of my request to Éoin. In the end, both men were stunned into silence.
“You-you don’t want to marry Captain Michael?” Father stammered.
“I’m sorry Captain” was all I could say to him, and no more.
“The bann’s have been read” he said, and cleared his throat, “we will still be wed.”
I looked between him and my father, unsure of what to say. The Captain also looked to him and once again father found himself in an undesired position.
“Sure you cannot consider her words!” Michael blurted, almost looking panic stricken.
“She is my only daughter” he stated nervously, “I will respect her emotions and yet-“his gaze met mine, “I can’t think of another recourse either.”
Good may come out of this Éoin’s words echoed back to me. I looked back aat the Captain, an idea forming in my mind.
“You know my desire to be at sea.” I said slowly, “…I will marry you on the condition that you allow me to partner with you in the merchant business.” A slight grin came to my lips at the afterthought, “even to allow me passage on a voyage now and then.”
I could see the Captain’s mind turning, hesitant to respond.
“She does have a mind for business” my father allowed, signalling to his approval of my proposition.
He sighed, “Agreed-but you must respect me as both Captain and husband.”
“And you must respect me as wife and business partner” I countered.
When the wedding bells did ring their clear cut sound that fateful day, father’s fishing boat appeared back at our cove, with a wedding present inside for me.