On Watch
by Kate


Brecon huddled on the leeward side of the rocky shelter atop the cliffs, watching the endless expanses of water as the morning sun glinted on the foam capped waves. Wrapped in a cloak, he scanned the horizon and saw nothing from his perch above the only sweep of beach for a number of miles that was capable of sustaining a large landing of troops.

There were times that he felt as though he was destined to be the only man who never saw anything. The others seemed, without fail, to come back with tales of the French, Spanish, and English ships they'd spotted. It had become a kind of contest, to see if one could identify the ships seen by nationality and type. Merchants, military, privateers, pirateseveryone else saw more than their share. A few even came to know the names of some of the Spanish ships that routinely patrolled the coastline and kept track of how often they passed.

Some of his comrades had been sailors or had grown up in port towns. These men were endlessly arguing the relative merits of the vessels that passed, a sloop versus a cutter, a ship o, war as opposed to a ship of the line. He, however, had been raised on a farm where the closest source of water was the local rivera slow lazy waterway that meandered across the farmland and was easily mastered in the simplest of rowboats. While he could tell you the differences between winte and summer wheat, or why some vegetables would grow in a certain place and others would wither, he couldn't tell a privateer's galley from a whaling ship.

The first time he had seen the ocean, it had taken his breath away. The boundless main was spread before him and he had felt suddenly very small and of only slight consequence to the world. Maybe that was why the ships avoided his watch, they knew of his instinctive antipathy towards their natural habitat and so did not grace him with their presence as a sort of retribution for his failure to appreciate the beauty of their favored element.

He had only once caught sight of two ships far out to sea, later on he'd been told that one was probably a merchantman and the other likely either a privateer or a rival naval vessel. All he'd known at the time is that he'd never seen anything quite like those ships as one attempted to evade while the other sought to cut off any escape. It had been like watching wild animals on the waves.

His one enjoyment on watch was observing the local Basque fishermen in their small boats as they pulled in nets full of the sea's offerings. He had learned to discern at a distance the type of fish being caught, and kept a particular lookout during times when it was known that the salmon were running. It shocked him at first to find the same fish he remembered from the quiet streams of home in the wild waters of the Atlantic, but the sameness of the fish comforted him in an obscure way. Even here, so far from home, not everything was different.

The creak of wind in rigging broke his reverie. Looking about, Brecon was startled and more than a little disconcerted to see a ship dropping anchor at the mouth of the beach cove. He might not know ships, but he knew that flag. The British appeared to have noticed the fresh water that flowed into the Bay of Biscay just there, as he watched them unload boats and water casks.

His perch afforded him a good view as the sailors loaded into the shore boats. British Navy, he identified the blue uniforms and arrogant carriage of military officers as two young men boarded the first boat to pull away from the ship. A dark and a fair head, uncovered in the bright noon sun once away from their commanding officers.

Silently cursing his wandering mind, Brecon got quickly to his feet and dashed back towards the base of the outcropping. Skidding to a halt, he hauled the signal flag aloft, sheltered from view by the headland, with a clear line of sight to the Stronghold watchtower. The men standing watch there would relay the message to the earl.

"Foreigners on the beach, sir."