Highlander’s Winds of Hope – Alisa Adams

There is a phenomenon little known to anyone but those of the Highlands that occurs in the strait of water between the northernmost tip of Scotland and the Orkney Islands. This phenomenon is called the Tidal Race, and it occurs when the tides of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea come rushing towards each other from opposite sides of the strait of water of the Pentland Firth. At certain times of the year, the tides are fiercely turbulent, with some of the highest waves seen—reaching up to fifteen feet high—and the water rushing along at sixteen knots, particularly if the winds are strong. It also creates deadly whirlpools that are known to entrap boats and pull them down into the swirling vortex. A long, long time ago, the Tidal Races that occur in various places around Scotland had another name given by the ancient Gaels. They called the occurrence the Corryvreckan, which in Gaelic roughly translates to mean the maelstrom cauldron. Pentland Firth Between the Orkney Islands and the coast of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands 1400s He was too late. Though his own ship was in calm waters, the sea ahead of him was eerily changing into something that looked like a boiling cauldron as chaotic waves gathered themselves like the shroud-covered heads and shoulders of sea hags, and heaved themselves up to the sky. Their white fingertips were covered in seafoam as they reached higher, and then higher yet as if blindly seeking a ship to clasp and drag under. The sea waters rushed erratically together in the turbulent maelstrom. It was an overpowering and growing energy equaling destruction to any ship that dared to enter. He watched as a whirlpool, dark and deadly, swirling dizzily, was born in the middle of it all, knowing that the sinking ship he had come upon with his own ship was doomed to be pulled into it. He also knew that the pirate sailing away on the other side of the churning waters, clear of the phenomenon called the Corryvreckan, was responsible for the sinking ship beside his own. He had arrived too late to help them. Too late to catch the pirate.

The tall sea captain stood, frowning. He looked out from the bow of his ship, the Winds of Hope, as he watched the pirate’s ship disappear into the bloodred sun, low on the horizon. The glowing crimson clouds of the setting sun lit up the ship with a menacing light. Its sails were illuminated with the fiery colors of the sunset, while above the ship, on its tallest mast, waved a black flag with a leering skull and a skeletal fist holding a menacing dagger. The black flag flapped wildly in the increasing wind. It seemed to mock him as the skull’s eerie smile turned an even more malevolent bloody color. The captain stroked the jagged scar on his cheek with his thumb as he narrowed his eyes on the distant ship getting away from him once again. He could no longer hear the pirate’s triumphant laughter; instead, it was the steadily increasing roar of the sea ahead that he heard. He leaned forward, placing his big hands on the rail of the ship as he looked away from the pirate ship to stare ahead at the waters between his ship and the pirate’s. He was tensely studying the change that had come over the seawater of the narrow straight.

Was there time for his ship to make it through? Ahead, the increasingly furious patch of water between his ship and the other ship disappearing on the horizon was growing in size. There is no way I can sail through that. He slammed his fist on the rail and narrowed his eyes as he clenched the rail tightly in frustration. He couldn’t go after the pirate now. The waters ahead churned in chaos, creating a violently dangerous and sudden maelstrom as the two tides of the giant oceans met and fought in the narrow straight of the firth. It was an eerie and fascinating sight to behold, but a deadly one. No ship had gotten through it in one piece. The pirate sailing away from him had timed his attack well. He had made sure to attack just before the cold North Sea tide came rushing from the east into the waters of the Pentland Firth at the same time the tide being fed by the Outer Sea on the firth’s western side came flooding in as well. He looked up at his triangular sails.

At this point, he needed to make sure his ship was not pulled into the dangerous waters. All his sails were down, thankfully. He scowled as he continued watching the sea ahead of his ship, trying to judge the speed of the increasing tides. The sound was increasing now to a deafening roar of racing, swirling, white water, and foaming angry waves. Too fast…much too fast. He judged the speed to be about sixteen knots. He imagined that he could still hear the pirate laughing at him, knowing that he would not follow the pirate now that the tidal race was starting. “Captain Orcadian?” came a voice from behind him, interrupting his thoughts. He turned. “Aye?” he said gruffly as the sailor took a step back from his angry captain’s sharp stare.

“We found no survivors in the water from the ship that the Pirate Leach attacked,” the sailor said solemnly as he moved warily away from his huge captain’s angry look. He looked up at the captain’s hair. It was lit up from the setting sun behind him, making it appear to glow like molten gold that was on fire. “The tides, Cap’n. Are we going tae sail intae the Corryvreckan, tae chase doon the pirate? ’Tis like a bubbling cauldron, they say. No ship can make it through…” he said with a tremor of fear as his voice trailed off at his captain’s fierce look. “Nae a single survivor?” Captain Orcadian asked in a deep, rumbling burr, ignoring his crewman’s question about the Corryvreckan starting. He turned sharp blue eyes to the sinking vessel beside his ship and the debris in the water. The other ship was still burning as it sank. The black smoke rising in the air was what had alerted his ship to sail this way.

The ship had been set afire by the pirates and its goods taken, as were the lives of any men on the ship. He watched as the last of the sails withered into ash and the burning mast crashed down onto the sinking deck. The seawater hissed as the flames that had engulfed the mast were snuffed out as the mast sank into the water. The captain’s eyes raked over the sea around him, seeing the bodies of sailors floating facedown in the water. “Nay, Cap’n,” the sailor said in a hushed voice. “No survivors.” Captain Broccin Orcadian turned to his crewman. “We were too late tae help the poor souls. Too late tae catch that wily Pirate Leach,” he growled as he stroked the scar on his cheek once again. “They’ll be pulled intae the Corryvreckan, and there is naught we can do aboot it now.

” He stood up tall and eyed his crew on the main deck. His men were watching him, silently and tensely waiting for his orders. They, too, could hear the growing roar of the tides clashing. “Bring the ship aboot and load the sails!” he roared. “We must be away from here!” His eyes went back to the burning, sinking ship, and the debris and bodies in the water. Memories flooded his mind as they too often did. He was a boy again, and it was his family’s ship sinking as it was pulled down into the turbulent maelstrom of the Corryvreckan. It was his family’s small ship that the pirate had set flame to. He had rammed them, destroying their rudder and splintering apart the stern of their small ship. Young Broccin had been thrown into the water from the impact.

When he came to, he was floating on a piece of wood, his cheek bloody and torn as the fast waters of the tidal races swept him away. He could still hear the faint cries of his parents’ last screams as they were sucked down into a whirlpool with their small ship. He would never forget the sound of the pirate’s high-pitched laughter from where the evil man had stood on his bow, watching his parents’ ship. Broccin rubbed his thumb across the jagged scar on his cheek, pushing the terrible images and sounds of memory away. He growled and slammed his fist down on the rail of the ship again as he stared after the departing pirate ship. “I’ll get him one day,” he said to himself. Then he turned to his men as they scurried around on the decks. “Hurry, men! Faster! Turn the bow aboot and raise those sails! We head back tae port.” With a last look at the ship fading into the red setting sun, he once again spoke his vow: “I know ye are the only pirate that uses the maelstrom against yer victims, ye scunner. I have learned yer ways after all these years hunting ye.

” He rubbed the scar on his cheek with his thumb once more. “I will find ye if ’tis the last thing I do. I’ll burn yer ship right down tae the waterline and then ’twill be my ship that rams yers intae the Corryvreckan. I will be satisfied only when I see the waters drag yer ship and yerself down intae the dark, deadly depths of the sea. All of the Orkneys and north of Scotland will be well rid of ye, and the sea will know peace once more.” “H 1 One year later… e is a pirate, Bhaltair!” Mary Douglas Mallach whirled towards her brother Bhaltair as she glanced back to watch the big, frightening-looking captain stalk down the gangplank of her brother’s ship. “You are asking a pirate tae sail me tae this man I am supposed tae marry?” “He isnae a pirate, Sister,” Bhaltair Douglas said calmly but firmly, hiding his exasperation for his sister as he jumped down from the wagon. Mary’s four sons clambered over the side of the wagon eagerly, their heads turning in all directions to take in all the activity on the docks. Bhaltair held his hand up to his sister to help her down. “Boys! Dinnae wander!” Mary ordered the four young boys as she stood up in the wagon, staring down imperiously at her sons.

When they nodded meekly, she turned back to her brother, reaching for his hand. “However will I make a good impression being escorted by a pirate, Bhaltair? Perhaps ’tis best tae wait for another ship?” Mary asked as she lifted her heavy skirts in one hand as her brother helped her down the steps of the wagon and to the ground. Her grey eyes widened as she spoke; her focus had not waivered from the huge sea captain towering over all the others around him. Bhaltair scowled fiercely at his sister once she got down from the wagon. He had been hearing all her objections for months. Her younger sister Grace did not wait for her brother’s help but tried to go over the side of the wagon as her nephews had. Her skirts caught on the edge and she fell, landing hard on the ground flat on her bum in a flurry of skirts. “Gracie! Really?” Mary moaned as she looked at her youngest sister. “Ye couldnae wait for Bhaltair tae help ye down? Get yerself up! Quickly now, eyes are on ye, and ye are supposed tae be a lady!” Gracie frowned and got up, dusting off her backside. “If I didnae have all these skirts tangled around my legs, I could have jumped over just fine, Mary!” Gracie said with an inelegant laughing snort as she tried to right her skirts.

“Now, where is this pirate? I should like tae see a real pirate!” “A pirate!” Aron, the youngest of the four at eight years old, said excitedly. “We have never had a pirate at the docks! Are we tae go on a pirate ship then, Uncle?” he asked with his hands clasped eagerly together as if praying that the answer would be a yes. Bhaltair sighed in frustration as four pairs of eyes looked eagerly up at him. He swiped his hand through his dark hair as he took a breath. “Nay, boys, you arnae going on a pirate ship. And nay, ye arnae going with yer mother on this trip. And nay, he isnae a pirate!” “He is most certainly a pirate,” came Mary’s voice. “Look at that jagged scar across his cheek, from a pirate battle, no doubt!” Gracie stood up tall to see where her sister was pointing. “Och, he is a giant! And that scar! Aye, ’tis from a terrible, horrible, evil pirate battle tae be sure. How exciting!” She sighed with a dreamy look on her face as she stared at the captain.

“He is most handsome, isnae he?” Gracie clasped her sister’s arm and leaned in close. “Isnae he the tallest, strongest-looking man ye have ever seen, Mary?” She sighed dreamily again. “Look at his form!” She fanned her face with her fingers and leaned in closer as she whispered, “I can see why our sister-in-law Fiona says marriage is blissful and our sister Cairis says the marriage bed is like being lifted into the bright golden rays of the most beautiful sunset ever!” she whispered breathlessly as she stared avidly at the big sea captain. Mary’s eyebrows raised as she huffed out a breath, trying to pretend shock at her younger sister and her exuberance. She whispered back in a disgusted voice, “How do ye know anything of that? There is nothing tae be had from the marriage bed but pain, discomfort, and awkwardness.” She held her sister’s arm while she stared with absolute seriousness into her eager eyes. “There is no golden sunset or bliss, little sister, and best ye remember that! Thankfully ’tis over in mere moments,” she murmured unhappily. Mary looked back at the captain. She bumped her sister’s shoulder with her own. “Look at his hair! Why, ’tis so long it trails down his back and he must tie it in a queue, just like a pirate would.

” Mary turned accusing eyes on her brother. “Ye are worse than Father ever was. Have ye nay heart?” she said as she bit her bottom lip and tears welled in her eyes. “Sending me all the way to the Orkney Islands. Forcing me tae marry a man I have never met. At the vera least, he should have come here tae meet me!” She tsked loudly as she shook her head. “Mary,” growled her brother, “we have been through this. Ye dinnae need tae meet him with the four wildlings all around ye getting intae mischief.” He glanced around looking for the boys and saw them nosing around a stack of crates; he snapped his fingers and singled them to come back. Mary knew it did not matter what she said or how she felt.

She had already said all her objections, but still, she had to try. “Have I no say?” she said desperately. “I have been married and I have the scars tae prove it, so do the boys, no doubt,” she said forcefully. When that did not work, she added, “Why cannae ye take me tae meet the man ye have arranged for me tae wed instead of that pirate?” “I cannae take ye, Mary. My ship must be unloaded, and then I must see tae it that the contents of the crates are logged, and…I must get home tae Fiona and the children. At yer age and with four children in tow, ye can do no better than the man I have arranged for ye tae marry, and the sea captain taking ye tae him is nay a pirate, Mary!” Bhaltair said in a huff. Bhaltair was distracted, looking over at his ship that had just docked, the one where Captain Broccin Orcadian was standing at the bottom of the gangplank scowling as the crew departed. “Angus?” Mary said as she turned her attention to look up at the old man with long, white hair and an impressively long, white-as-snow beard and bushy mustache who was sitting in the wagon driver’s seat still holding the reins to the cart horse. “Doesnae he look like a pirate tae ye?” Angus shoved his pipe into his mouth. With all the bushy white hair around his lips, however, one could never tell if the pipe was actually between his lips, for sometimes he just stabbed it into his beard to be held in all the masses of long white hair until he wanted to smoke it.

Angus calmly studied the big man that Mary was pointing to. “Uh-hum,” he said. A puff of smoke rose from the pipe as he squinted his eyes at the big sea captain.

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