Timbers creaked ominously as the vessel rose, teetered momentarily on the crest, and then plunged in a cloud of spray into the valley of the wave, causing a booming explosion which shuddered the ship from stem to stern. In her hold, horses whinnied in terror and men more used to the uplands of Darien hung their pallid heads over sick-slick stinking decks and wished they could die.
“Ah cannae hold her much longer, Yer Lordship. She’ll nae beat agin’ a storm this hard!” Seaman Scott McScot swayed on the deck, his feet rooted to the planking, his eye peering through the furious dusk as the horizon rose and fell and twisted and rose again.
Rain lashed at Lord Drumcharry’s oilskins and ran in rivulets from the felt guttering of his gold-fringed tricorne hat. He looked aloft, and saw unspeakably courageous men illuminated by a sudden flash of lightning as they fought to furl billowing sheets against swaying spars. “How far from Montaña Viejas do you think we are, Scotty?” He shouted against the roar of the wind and crashing waves. He snapped open a brass telescope and held it to his eye, trying to keep his shoulders loose so that his aim could stay with the lurching horizon.
“Ach, Yer Lordship, there’s nae way tae tell. It’s been blowing ever since we passed The Devil’s Rock and the current’s with her, so who knows? We’ve nae been able to heave the log, nor see the stars, but I swear I’ve seen some others in the fleet astern when the lightning strikes.” His taut muscles strained against the wheel, his rivered face ruddy with the effort.
Suddenly, Lord Drumcharry straightened, his gaze fixed on a single point, and at that moment a faint voice came from the rigging above, whipped away by the wind.
“Land! Land ho!”
Drumcharry could see it now as well. Faint, flickering lights in the distance. “There, Scotty, there! Make for those lights, and put us ashore to the east of them. We don’t want to turn up in the middle of a damn hornet’s nest, especially given the condition of the men but, by God, I’ll be glad to feel solid land beneath my feet!”
“Aye aye, Yer Lordship,” replied the grizzled sailor, and he heaved all the harder on the wheel whilst wondering where the rest of the Grand Mercenary Fleet, consisting of dozens of ships, had gone. Thousands of men, horses and cannon, far from home, drawn hither by the hope of fame and fortune, now torn asunder by the capricious gods of the deep.
He wiped the salt from his eyes, set his bristled jaw and battled on.