The sky was already tinged with shades of red and faint gold when Willy at last directed Bonnie down the lane that led to the house of one Mr. Crenshaw, the owner of a small shipping company and a friend of Mr. McKenzie. The large stone house loomed like a grey ghost in the remnants of morning fog that surrounded it. There didn’t seem to be any movement from within, but that wasn’t incredibly surprising considering how early it still was.
The house was old, though not as old as the McKenzie house, and was set up on a hill that looked down on the seaport town of Irvine. Even from that distance, Willy could still see the white sails of the ships resting in Irvine’s relatively new Fullarton Harbour.
The shadow of the Crenshaw house fell over Willy like a cloak, and he pulled Bonnie to a stop not far from the front door. The young man tried to rub the exhaustion out of his eyes before he slid from the saddle, his boots crunching in the dirt of the driveway. The satchel he had slung over his shoulder began to wiggle, and Willy could barely undo the latches before Artair poked his little head out from beneath the flap.
“I know you want out, but you had best stay there a wee bit longer, lad,” Willy chuckled, patting the puppy on the head. “Though I must say, you’ve been a good boy. This is far too small a bag for you.”
The puppy whined and licked the man’s hand.
“You must be hungry, as well,” the young man sighed. “I certainly am.”
Tucking Artair back into the satchel for the time being, Willy stepped up to the front door and knocked. A few moments later, he heard rustling from inside, and the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man still clad in his nightshirt.
“Can I help you?” the man inquired cautiously.
“Are you Mr. Crenshaw?” Willy inquired.
“Mr. McKenzie sent me.”
A light of recognition came to Mr. Crenshaw’s eyes.
“Put your horse in the stable,” he said as he motioned toward a partly stone, partly wooden edifice not far from the house, his voice hushed. “Then come inside. Be quick about it.”
Mr. Crenshaw had already dressed for the day by the time Willy stepped into the main room.
“Take a seat, lad,” the older man said, crossing over to a bottle of what looked to be whisky and pouring some into a couple of small lead crystal glasses.
Quietly Willy sank down into a chair. He hadn’t been sitting long, however, when Artair began to squirm in his satchel, and before the young man could react, the puppy had jumped out and onto the floor.
“Artair,” Willy growled, reaching for the puppy. “Get back here.”
Mr. Crenshaw paused in surprise, blinking at the pair as the younger Scotsman picked the greyhound puppy up off the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Willy apologized, sitting back down in his seat. “It’s a long story.”
“I’m not asking a thing,” the older man replied, shaking his head as he handed one of the glasses to his visitor.
“Now, then,” he said, taking a seat opposite of Willy and sipping at his brandy as he eyed the younger man before him. “You look pretty well done in. I take it the dogs have been at the old McKenzie place, then?”
“Aye,” Willy sighed. “Last night. About 9, I’d say. Was a miracle they didn’t find me. I can’t stay here anymore. I’m putting everyone in danger. Mr. McKenzie said you’d help me.”
Mr. Crenshaw pursed his lips in thought, nodding slowly.
“Aye,” he said, glancing out the window to his right which looked out over the port city beyond. “Aye, there might be something we can do. I’m no use in a fight.” He chuckled slightly. “At least, not in a fight that uses anything other than fists. But I respect you, and your mission. It’s a shame you can’t even be safe in your own country.”
Mr. Crenshaw downed the last of his whiskey in a single gulp, then set the glass aside and stood to his feet.
“I’ll go down to the port. See what I can do. The king’s got the harbor locked up tight, though. Been that way ever since Bothwell. There are patrols out seaside, too, and they’ve got no qualms about boarding and searching any ship bound for Ireland.”
“Have other Covenanters gone there as well?” Willy inquired. He wasn’t sure whether to be frightened or excited about the thought.
“Aye,” Mr. Crenshaw nodded. “Or at least, that’s the thought. Fine, wild country, that. A man could hide for years and no one would ever be the wiser.”
The older man started off toward the door, but Willy quickly stood to his feet.
“Mr. Crenshaw,” he said.
Mr. Crenshaw paused to look back at him.
“Is there somewhere I might be able to sleep?”
Artair yipped and bit lightly at the young man’s chin.
“And, if it isn’t too much to ask, some food for myself and my dog.”
“Ah,” Mr. Crenshaw smiled slightly, turning in a different direction, presumably toward the kitchen and larder. “I suppose we could find something for the both of you.”
Thunder rattled the windows nearby as Willy woke to the feeling of a large hand shaking him awake. The young man sat up quickly, causing Artair, who had been sleeping peacefully on the young man’s chest, to whine as he slid down into Willy’s lap.
“Easy, now,” Mr. Crenshaw said, chuckling. “No need to hurt yourself.”
“Is something the matter?” Willy asked, rubbing his face with his hand in an attempt to bring some life back into it and wake himself up.
“That depends greatly on your meaning,” the older Scotsman replied, stepping back as Willy threw his legs over the side of the bed. “I’ve already loaded your horse onto one of my ships. It’s moored now just up the coast past the harbor. Getting there should be no trouble, but…”
Mr. Crenshaw glanced out the nearby window as another bolt of lightning struck across the sky, lighting the landscape up as though it were daytime.
“The storm is getting bad. It’s risky business, sailing tonight, but the Royalists have been watching me closely since early this afternoon. Most likely because they suspect Mr. McKenzie. We’ve all got our necks on the block with this. I’ll not go down without a fight, but I hope you are aware of what may come.”
A lump began to form in Willy’s throat, but he swallowed it down and, scooping Artair up under one arm, replied, “Aye.”
For a moment, Mr. Crenshaw eyed him. Then with that, the older Scotsman turned on his heels and motioned for the younger man to follow him, saying, “Get what you need and follow me. We’ll take a pair of my own horses down as soon as you’re ready.”
Heavy drops of rain had already begun to fall as Willy jogged into the stables a few minutes later. Already Mr. Crenshaw had saddled two of his horses – a large bay and a smaller chestnut – and the man swung into the bay’s saddle when Willy stepped through the door.
“Hurry and get up, lad. We don’t have much time to spare.”
The younger man nodded in acknowledgement, then flipped open the top of the satchel Lizzie had given him and placed Artair inside. The puppy whined in protest as Willy closed the flap back over him and tied it firmly shut.
“I know, lad,” the young man said as he grabbed his mount’s reins and swung up into the saddle. “Not for much longer, now.”
“Ready?” Mr. Crenshaw inquired as the horses danced with the rumbling of thunder outside the stable.
Quickly, Willy pulled the hood of the coat Mr. McKenzie had given him up over his head.
“Aye. Let’s go.”
Mr. Crenshaw dug his heels into his mount’s sides, and Willy followed suit as they took off at a lope out the stable doorway. The horses’ hooves rumbled like a drum roll down the gravel drive. Ice-cold rain droplets stung Willy’s cheeks as the wind sang past him, and with each flash of lightning he could easily make out the contours of the boiling black clouds above.
The two men slowed their horses to a fast walk as they swung around a curve in the road and down the hill. A flash of lightning lit up the harbor beyond, the white sails of the moored ships shivering like a ghostly retinue in the wind, and Willy’s mount shied slightly to one side. The young man pulled back on the reins, trying to regain control of his mount. Not a moment later, Mr. Crenshaw had pulled up beside him, motioning urgently to the side of the road while nodding his head in the direction of Irvine. Willy glanced up in time to see the glow of a couple lanterns flicker at the bottom of the hill, bright red coats glimmering like blood with each flash of lightning. Immediately, the pair swerved off the road and down behind a rise in the hill, away from the patrol they had seen only moments before.
Already cold driblets of water coursed down Willy’s bare neck and his coat felt heavy with rainwater. The foul weather was beginning to make his arm ache, making the ride that much more difficult to bear.
Another flash of lightning struck across the sky, illuminating the form of a small sailing vessel moored in a natural harbor up ahead, and a moment later Willy slid to the ground a few feet from a small skiff held in place by one of Mr. Crenshaw’s servants. Another man, who looked to be a sailor, sat at the oars of the skiff, his expression grim.
The servant trotted up to Willy the moment his feet hit the ground, nodding briefly at him before taking hold of his mount’s reins. Boots sloshed against the wet earth as Mr. Crenshaw dismounted and stepped forward, leading his horse behind him.
“Mr. Gilliland,” the older man said, holding a hand out toward him. “God be with you.”
“Thank you,” Willy nodded, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “You as well.”
At that he turned and hurried to the skiff, stepping carefully inside as it rocked against the crashing waves. The oarsman didn’t say a word as he pushed away from the shore. Angry waves dashed against the skiff’s sides, tumbling over the edges in what seemed to be bucket loads and soaking Willy’s feet even more than they already were, if that were even possible.
A particularly large wave knocked the skiff against the hull of the ship, and the oarsman pulled the oars into the little craft, grabbing a large, waterlogged rope that hung over the side of the ship before the waves could carry them further out to sea. Shadowed faces appeared over the rail above them, and a moment later a rope ladder clapped against the wooden hull, hanging just above Willy’s head.
“Climb,” the oarsman instructed, motioning with his hand toward the rope ladder that fluttered in the wind.
Willy swallowed hard as he looked up at the flimsy series of knotted rope strands, then reached up and shakily pulled himself to his feet. The skiff dipped down on a wave and the young Scotsman tightened his grip as he felt his footing give way, and it was several moments before he found the balance to begin climbing. Horses, he was accustomed to; walking, he was accustomed to; anything regarding a ship, however…
The young man floundered on the rope ladder as he slowly worked his way up, flopping from one side to the next each time the ship rose and fell on a wave. He could almost hear James laughing at his comical display, and he might have laughed at himself if not for the gravity of the situation. He was beginning to think that he would never make it to the top when he felt several pairs of strong, calloused hands grab him by the arms and hands and pull him up onto the deck. Some of the sailors threw more ropes over the edge, and a moment later the oarsman who had been guiding the skiff appeared over the railing, the other sailors hauling the skiff up onto the deck simultaneously.
Willy stood shivering on deck as he watched the sailors busy themselves with the ship. Honestly, he knew that he probably ought to be doing something to help them, but ships were far from his specialty.
“Here, lad,” came a deep, gravelly voice from behind him.
Willy turned as he felt a heavy hand come to rest on his shoulder. The man standing next to him was obviously a sailor, but his style of dress was slightly different, and Willy wondered if he might be the captain.
“Follow me,” the man said, motioning toward a set of steps that led down below the main deck. “It’s best you not stay out here.”
Willy was more than happy to oblige as he followed the sailor below deck and into a dank chamber with several hammocks hanging from the ceiling. The room smelled strange, heavy with odors both familiar and unfamiliar to the young Scotsman. Most likely, Willy thought, because it couldn’t be aired out and was generally inhabited by multiple unwashed men.
The hammocks swayed to the side as the ship dipped on a wave and Willy stumbled back into the wall behind him. He was beginning to think that even standing was a hazardous endeavor. The sailor, though, seemed unfazed as he walked across the tiny quarter and pulled a blanket off one of the hammocks.
“Here,” he said, returning to Willy and holding the blanket out toward the young man. “I’ve got to go back on deck, but you should take some of those wet clothes off and wrap up in this. Likely to catch a chill otherwise. We’ll come get you when we land.”
“Thank you,” Willy nodded appreciatively as he shed his coat.
The sailor nodded back, but didn’t wait for further conversation as he set off back the way he had come.
Carefully, Willy sank to the floor, untying the latches of his satchel. Artair spilled out in a heap and quickly skittered to his feet, sparing no time in exploring his new surroundings as Willy shed his shirt and boots and wrapped up in the blanket. The puppy wobbled as the ship pitched, and he seemed to be growing accustomed to walking on uneven ground until one particularly violent wave crashed against the hull of the ship. The craft shuddered with the impact, then took a surprisingly fast dive in one direction, crashing the puppy’s nose against the wall before sending him sliding backwards across the small space.
Willy braced himself to keep himself from tumbling to the side, and he couldn’t help but chuckle when Artair rolled up against him. The puppy righted himself as the ship evened out again. The little creature shook himself as if to be rid of the entire experience, gave the wall one very disdainful glare, then laid down against Willy’s thigh with a huff.
“That’s a good lad,” Willy smiled, patting the puppy on the head.
The puppy wagged his tail and pressed himself even closer to Willy.
Quietly, Willy leaned his head back against the wall, listening to the roaring of the waves and the shouting of sailors outside. The ship creaked and groaned as the sea battered it from all sides, and more than once Willy had to brace himself and grab Artair to keep them both from sliding around the small room like helpless toys.
“What do you think it’ll be like?” Willy asked at length, his voice barely audible above the creaking of the ship and the roaring of the elements outside. “Ireland, I mean. What will I do? Where will I go?”
The young man could feel a knot forming in his stomach as he thought about it. Ireland. To the English, Scotland was a wild place. How much more so, then, would Ireland be? How could Ireland be better than staying and fighting in his own homeland? Only, the English didn’t have as firm a hold on Ireland as they did on Scotland. And, of course, there was talk that other Covenanters had fled to Ireland, too. Perhaps…
Artair stirred next to him and Willy bit back a flood of emotion that nearly overwhelmed him. He was going to a country he had never known, a foreign land where he had neither hearth nor kin. He had fought for God, and now he was to be a stranger in a foreign land, a hunted brute separated from everyone and everything he had ever known and loved. He hadn’t even gotten to tell his mother or father good-bye. Not since leaving for Bothwell, at least, and even then, he had been so sure of victory that he hadn’t really given them a proper good-bye. If he had only known… But how could he? How could he have known that God would give them a victory at Drumclog, only to watch them slaughtered and scattered at Bothwell Bridge? How could he have known that James would have been captured and practically enslaved by the English? How could he have known that he would have to hide like a criminal in his own country and run away, all alone, to a foreign and wild land without knowing if he could ever return? He couldn’t have known that, because he had been so sure God was with them.
Again Artair shifted, this time turning and flopping the front half of his body in Willy’s lap.
“Well, lad,” Willy said, picking the puppy up and looking him in the face. “You’re all I’ve got now.”
The puppy snorted and cocked his head to one side, but wagged his tail some at the same time.
“You don’t think so?”
The puppy yipped and squirmed. Willy set Artair back on the ground and immediately the puppy sprawled across the young man’s lap again, heaving what seemed to be a sigh of contentment and wagging his tail for effect.
Willy smiled slightly as he watched the puppy. Perhaps Lizzie had been smarter than he realized. If he had nothing and no one else, he at least had Artair, didn’t he? A feeling, almost like a whispering touch, passed over Willy’s body and he shivered slightly. There was someone else though, wasn’t there?
Again Willy thought of the battle that had gone so horribly wrong. “If God be for us…” he had said, but had they actually been for God? He thought about all the in-fighting, about Mr. Hamilton’s insistence on brutal punishment of any and all who opposed them, and about Willy’s own pride after the victory at Drumclog. They had won with preachers and pitchforks, they said. But hadn’t they really won with God? Had they, in the end, given the preachers and pitchforks more praise than the God who had used them to win the battle? Was it not a question of whether God was for them but, rather, whether they had been truly for God?
It was then that Willy realized the wind had died down, and that the sailors had become quiet as well. At first he was worried that something terrible had happened, but a moment later the muffled sound of a sailor shouting caught his ears.
Letting Artair slide to the floor with a protesting whimper, Willy stood quickly to his feet, pulling the blanket tighter about his bare shoulders as he stumbled up the steps and back out onto the deck. A brisk breeze met him as he exited the hold. The storm clouds had rolled back some, lingering in the distance to the south, but behind the ship the sun rose like a warm golden disk, highlighting the first lines of a rolling emerald green that rose up on the horizon to the west.
“Would you have a look at that,” came a voice from nearby.
Willy glanced over at the sailor from before, the one he assumed was most likely the captain.
“Almost looks as though there was never a storm about,” the man continued. “And that was no mere storm, either. I’ve never seen the like of it.”
For a moment Willy stared at the sailor, but as the other man strode off, the young Scotsman turned his eyes back toward the horizon. Already the rolling emerald green had grown, stretching north and south as far as the eye could see. Slowly, a half smile crept onto the young man’s face. If God could get him through that terrible storm, could He not also get him through the storm of conflict he now faced?
“For a persecuted church and her martyrs, against a godless church and king, I will take my stand,” he breathed silently, his eyes trained upon the rolling green of the new land before him. “But more than that, for the God for whom we fight, I will lay down anything, even my life. May He be first always and never forgotten. This…this is my covenant.”