Previous chapters start here
Which tells of endings and the open sea
Sheppard fell down onto one knee, then fell further, his hand sinking into the mud. "You shot him!" Rodney cried, and when he sprang to his feet, he was barely aware of how exhausted his limbs were. "You shot him in the back." He went down again at Sheppard's side, shielding the man from further harm. "Have you no honour?"
"Plenty," Wheeler said, "but he is a condemned highwayman and very likely a pirate to boot. There is no need to be honourable to such a one. It surprises me, Mister McKay, that you would throw you lot in with someone like him."
"Because he has more honour than you have," Rodney screamed at him. Was that blood? God, was that blood, dripping down into the mud? "He's a good man, and… and now you're going to kill me, aren't you? You're going to…"
Sheppard went slack against him. Rodney pawed at him until he had purchase, and lowered him onto the shore. His lips moved, but no sound came out of them. Somebody was shouting not too far away.
Rodney's heart was pounding in his ears, and everything lurched with the dizziness of exhaustion and terror. Sheppard was dying. They had failed, and any moment now, Rodney was going to get shot. It all ended here. All his choices, they all led here.
"Please," he whispered, perhaps to Sheppard, perhaps to Wheeler; he did not know.
The shouting came again. "I said stop! Lay down your weapons. Stand aside."
People. He swallowed; swallowed again. People were coming. Wheeler had reinforcements. No. No. He heard the sound of hoofbeats; saw horses slowing down as they reached the edge of the mud. "Sheppard!" he hissed. "Sheppard!" but Sheppard made no response; didn't even move. There was spreading redness on the back of his sodden shirt, and the hand that was outstretched in the mud looked lifeless.
"You, too, sir," a voice bellowed.
His hand on Sheppard's back, Rodney looked up, looked around. Ronon and Teyla were being dragged forward, struggling in the grip of several men. Rodney tried to catch their eye with a desperate I think he's dead, but they were too far away.
Wheeler was hurrying forward, greeting the evident leader of the new arrivals. "I caught these--" He wrinkled his nose in disgust as he glanced at Teyla. "--people attempting to land with clear criminal intent. This one here," he said, indicating Sheppard, "is a known highwayman, condemned just yesterday at the Winchester Assizes. I have reason to believe that he has committed other crimes, too." He jabbed a sharp hand at Ronon and Teyla. "See the sort of people he associates with."
"That's not true!" Rodney pushed himself to his feet. Mud slipped beneath them, and he almost fell, but not quite. "Well, yes, some of it's true. I mean, he was condemned at the Assizes and he is…" He swallowed hard. Don't mention pirates, he reminded himself. "But that's not the point. He was unjustly condemned. This man's a Jacobite and he intends to kill the king. Sheppard… I mean we… We found out proof. He's trying to silence us." He found himself reaching out a desperate hand, pleading. His hand was stained with Sheppard's blood, he saw. "Please. He's going to kill the king."
"How ridiculous." Wheeler laughed, flapping his hand dismissively. "Desperate men, you see," he said confidingly to the newcomer, "tarring others with the brush of their own crimes."
"Indeed," said the newcomer. He was not a tall man, and he was wearing all black, except for a plain but expensive cravat at his throat. As he dismounted, his boots sank a little into the mud, and he looked down at them, seemingly disgusted.
"We have proof," Rodney said desperately. His hand had already gone to his pocket before he remembered the truth. Yet even then they kept on moving, pulling out the sodden, ruined fragments of paper. All the ink had washed away. His brilliant proof was gone.
"Of course they don't have proof," Wheeler sneered. "Send word to Winchester, and you will know the truth of it. These wretched creatures stole their leader from the very gallows. I was instrumental in his capture, which is presumably why they came after me for revenge."
"Indeed." The newcomer crouched down beside Sheppard, and touched the red marks at his throat. "I can see the proof of that."
"Please." Rodney grabbed the man's arm. "It isn't true." God, but he felt like crying! His eyes hurt with too much dirty water, and he wanted to sleep for a week, and Sheppard was very likely dead, and Wheeler was telling such lies, and it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair! He felt as if bars were closing around him, and the whole world was narrowing to just this patch of mud. Was this how Sheppard had felt, he suddenly thought. Was this how Sheppard had felt during all the long years in which he had been falsely accused? "Please," he begged, "we haven't done anything wrong. Well, actually, we have – we did quite a lot of things wrong, really, like stealing, and… but it was all done for the greater good. We had to find out what he was up to. He's going to kill the king!"
"No, he isn't," the newcomer said.
"Please!" Rodney all but screamed.
Ronon and Teyla were close now, both struggling desperately. "Sheppard!" Ronon was bellowing, and Teyla was shouting, "You have to listen to us," and "please!" and "John!"
Rodney hauled at the man's arm. "Or maybe not him," he said. "He's got accomplices. He as good as said. You have to… I mean, please believe us, and Sheppard… you have to… But the king! It was going to be at sunset. I had the proof even though I lost it. You have to do something."
The man looked down at Rodney's hand in disgust. "And you are?"
"McKay," Rodney told him. "Rodney McKay."
"Ah." The man raised an eyebrow, but added nothing more.
"The evidence is clear," Wheeler said. "End this nonsense."
"Indeed I will," said the man, and he snapped his fingers. Within seconds, Wheeler's men were disarmed and taken.
The instant that the men released her, Teyla ran forward. Wheeler was protesting loudly as he and his men were dragged away, but Teyla barely noticed them. All she saw was John lying on the shore, his back covered with blood. "John!" she gasped, falling to her knees beside him.
Then McKay was there opposite her. "They believed me." He was twisting his fingers in front of him. "They believed me. I convinced them. They believed me. I did it. I…" He swallowed audibly. "He's going to be all right?"
Ronon threw himself down beside her, and now there were three of them, a wall against the world. John moaned quietly, and rolled onto his side. "Hurts like hell," he whispered.
"You're alive." McKay's exhalation was shuddering.
"Yeah. It…" John grimaced. "It seemed wiser to play dead until it was clear which way the wind was blowing." He looked at McKay, his expression unguarded. "I didn't have to try very hard, I have to admit."
"Stay still," Ronon commanded.
McKay's hands were still fluttering. "Should we… uh… you know. The king. Those people. Possible imminent arrest."
Ronon sliced up the back of John's shirt. The ball had stuck him beneath the shoulder blade, well to the right of his spine. It was bleeding heavily, and the ball was probably still in the wound. His survival was by no means guaranteed, but she said nothing to that effect, because John would know it as well as she did. They had both seen friends die in the aftermath of battle.
"Got to stop the bleeding," Ronon said, "then get that ball out."
John nodded once, indicating an I know. Then he gestured them to stand back, and stood up, leaning heavily on Teyla for support. Rodney rushed in to support his other arm.
"So you were successful," said the leader of the men who had carried Wheeler away.
John nodded, but she could feel how tense he was, and knew that it came from more than just pain.
"I have to admit that I didn't expect you to resort to highway robbery when I set you this task." The man's nose wrinkled in distaste.
"It was you!" McKay cried. Ronon gasped and started forward, his fists clenching.
John spread one hand, and they both subsided. "I did what I had to do, Woolsey," he said wearily. "You have what you wanted. The king?"
"Is safe," the man called Woolsey said. "McKay..." His nose wrinkled in fresh disgust. "I intercepted a most unorthodox message from someone called McKay. Fortunately it came to me, and not to any of my… colleagues, who might not have been as disposed to believe it as I was. The king's itinerary was changed. These were not the only desperate rogues arrested today."
"Oh." McKay let out a shuddering breath. "Oh. I saved the king. I did it." He looked up hopefully. "Do you… er… have the copies of the ciphers that I sent you, because I've lost mine, and… Royal Society, you know?" There was a long pause. "No?"
John swayed. Teyla held him tighter, and McKay snapped back whatever else he had been about to say.
"You promised Sheppard a pardon." Ronon stepped forward, standing far taller than the man who held John's fate in his smooth, uncallused hand. "He did what you wanted – damn near got killed for it." He stepped forward again. Woolsey stepped back. "Keep your promise."
Woolsey took another step back, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and wiped away speck of mud from his face. "I'm afraid it's not as simple as that."
"You can't!" McKay shouted, the words sounding as if they had been torn from him. John swayed, almost falling to one knee. "No," he said quietly. "No, Ronon," and Ronon, thus commanded, snatched his fist back with evident difficulty.
"You can't do this," McKay said, his voice raw. "Sheppard said you'd try. He feared all along that you wouldn't let him go. He's saved the king, for crying out loud! You should be giving him a knighthood."
"The king will never know about it," Woolsey said. "It will be kept from him. You see…" He pulled out his handkerchief again, twisting it in his hands. "Since his visit to Hanover some years ago, there have been… fears that he would prefer to live there permanently, neglecting his greater duty here. That cannot happen. It is in the interests of all loyal Englishmen that the king stays here, at the helm of this, our mighty ship of state. It took much persuasion to induce him to make this tour of the southern counties. If he were to discover that an attempt had been made on his life…"
"Then we'll tell him," McKay said stoutly, "unless you--"
"You would not be advised to blackmail me, McKay." Woolsey's voice was chilly. "I merely point out that you will not be able to call upon the favour of the king. And need I remind you that you are all guilty of capital crimes? You are not in a position to bargain here."
"But Sheppard's innocent," McKay pleaded. "He always was. For eight years… God, for eight years! I've only lived it for a few weeks, but he and his crew had lived it for years, because he was betrayed, because the law believes people with influence, and let the truth be damned."
Woolsey jammed his handkerchief back into his pocket, and turned away slightly. "I am not the one pulling the strings here, McKay. I have my own masters."
"Then stand up to them." Ronon looked disgusted.
Teyla could feel John fading away beneath her touch, but struggling to stay upright. "Please," she begged, but this was not a battle that could be won by any of the weapons she possessed.
Finally John spoke, raising his head. "I'll do whatever you want," he said. "You don't have to pardon me, but pardon my crew. I beg you, please. Please…"
He sounded broken, but it was, she thought suddenly, one of the bravest things she had ever seen him do. He stood there exposed, his soul in his face, his wet shirt making his body look almost fragile.
Woolsey turned away. The whole world hung trembling, waiting on his word. Behind them, in the west, the last of the sun sank below the horizon, and not far away, a king she would never meet faced the evening, never knowing how close he had come to dying.
"To hell with it," Woolsey said at last. "I'll make sure you all get pardons, the whole sorry lot of you."
McKay waved his hand, just the fingers. "And a Royal Society Fellowship? You don't happen to have influence there, do you? No?"
But Woolsey was already turning away.
It would be the ultimate irony, Rodney thought, if Sheppard died just after finally getting his pardon.
He lay on piled pillows in the cabin on the ship that was taking them round the coast of southern England. "Wouldn't it be better in a place that… well, that didn't move?" Rodney wondered out loud.
Sheppard barely opened his eyes. "It feels better this way. More like home. Though I know it isn't. Doesn't feel right."
"Home?" Rodney asked, but he knew, of course. The Atlantis.
Woolsey had sent a physician – a man who claimed to be very important indeed, and a man who had wrinkled his nose in disgust and said that he was not a mere surgeon, to treat such a wound. Rodney remembered trying to talk to Beckett about the circulation of blood, and despising him, a little, for not knowing anything about it. This man knew all about it. This man couldn't save Sheppard.
In the end, Ronon had taken the pistol ball out, though that was something that Rodney had no intention of thinking about ever again. That was two days ago, and the wound was not yet showing signs of putrefying. But Rodney didn't have to be a physician or a surgeon to know that Sheppard was exhausted. Quite apart from the latest wound, he'd been shot in the arm, poisoned and half-hanged, and he had kept going only because he needed his pardon.
"You're not going to give up, are you?" he asked now.
Sheppard moved his head slightly. "Give up?"
"Now that you've achieved your goal." Rodney looked out of the small window at the lurching sea. "I've heard of it happening. People devote their whole life to proving some theory, and then when they do…" He snapped his fingers.
"I have no intention of dying," Sheppard said.
"But you've lost what you were living for." The moment he said it, Rodney realised that it had not, perhaps, been entirely tactful.
But Sheppard just smiled, and said, "No. No, I haven't."
The ship left the coast of England behind, the white cliffs fading into a line of grey ocean. Teyla knocked on John's door, and entered when he told her she could.
He was still lying on his side, still favouring his back, but she thought there was a little more colour in his cheeks. At least he refrained from gaping when he saw her; McKay had not been so controlled.
"Yes," she said, feeling almost shy. "I have decided to wear a gown more often." She had purchased it from a trader in Dover. It was a far cry from the rich gowns she used to wear, being coarse and practical, but she knew that it made her look unmistakeably female.
Clothes did not make her who she was. Everyone on the Atlantis knew that she was a woman, and if they found it harder to accept her when she wore a gown… well, then it was up to her to show them that she was no less herself than she had ever been. The world might judge her differently depending on what she wore, but those people that mattered saw her as she was. She saw herself as she was.
"I believe," she said slowly, "that I threw away too much when I walked out of my own life. Even freedom can have bars."
"Yes," he said, as his eyelids slid shut, and he slept.
She sat by him as he dreamed.
Ronon stood at the bow, straining towards the coast that held the Atlantis. Someone cleared their throat near him, and he whirled round, glaring.
"I'm sorry." McKay cleared his throat again. "I… er… It's just that it's forever, isn't it? Once we're back on the Atlantis. Sheppard's not going to want to go back to England again, not after it nearly killed him."
"I should hope not," Ronon said with feeling.
He still couldn't see her on the horizon. He remembered thinking that a ship could never replace the home he had lost, but that seemed so far away now. His time in England had shown him that he was miserable away from her. The Atlantis had given him friends: Sheppard, Teyla, Beckett, and one or two others. England had taken one look at him and dismissed him as a savage.
"It's just that…" McKay cleared his throat yet again. "It's a very long time until the next transit of Venus, which is the principal reason for men of my interests travelling the world, and… well…"
Instinct was to turn away, but Ronon remembered how McKay had solved the cipher, how he had volunteered himself for the raid on the apothecary's shop, how he had come up with the plan that had saved Sheppard's life. He was infuriating at times, yes, but then he thought what the Atlantis would be like without him. For some reason, Sheppard seemed to be amused rather than infuriated by McKay's prattling, and he smiled more when McKay was around. Perhaps, Ronon thought, it was because McKay was the only person on board who did not in any way think of Sheppard as his captain. Perhaps, in Sheppard's eyes, he was the only one there entirely by choice.
"Hey," he said, giving McKay a quick grin, "there'll be other things - stars and the like. And strange animals. I saw a sea monster once."
"Really?" McKay looked nervously over the bow.
Ronon clapped him on the back. "No," he said, and there ahead of him, tiny on the horizon, were the sails of the Atlantis.
He was home.
John rose from his bed long enough to announce the news of the pardons. "You can go home now, lads," he said.
Afterwards, when the Atlantis was almost empty, and the harbour was full of her crew negotiating passages with ships going near their own particular home ports, Teyla watched Carson try to manhandle John into his cabin. "We kept it ready for you," he said. "I knew you wouldn't be capable of coming back in one piece, daft lad that you are."
"I'll be fine," John said, though Teyla thought he looked deeply weary – wearier than he had looked when they had first left Chichester. She had expected his return to the Atlantis to be like sweet water in the desert to him. "Go home, Carson. You can do that now."
By nightfall, there were just the four of them. "So this is it," McKay said.
"Yes." John stretched out his legs, leaning back against the pillows she had insisted on putting against the side. "Welcome to a life of respectability."
"Are you sure you can manage respectable?" McKay asked. "I mean… Not that you're a criminal, or anything, but… I mean, your attempt to get pardoned did seem to involve a lot of crime, not to mention all the angry mobs."
"True," John said, "though I hear that you were the worst criminal mastermind of the lot of them."
"I wasn't!" McKay spluttered, then stopped, and made a soft noise almost of satisfaction. "Mastermind? You really think so?"
"Still," John said, "I've sworn off things like that now. I'm pure as the driven snow. Let's hope you mastermind types don't start dragging me down."
But there was a shadow there, behind his light words. "You expect them not to return," she said, in sudden realisation. His crew had gone, returning to see parents and friends they had not been able to see for many years. Surely he could not believe that they had gone forever? Some had, of course, and had murmured awkward farewells, but most intended to return.
"Why should they?" John asked. "They had no choice but to stay when they'd been declared outlaw because of me."
She rounded on him, suddenly angry. "Is that the only reason you think they stayed? Is that the only reason you think we stayed?" It was, she realised. All those times he had given them the slip; all those times he had turned to them and urged them to leave… He truly believed that they only followed him out of the duty that a crew owed to its captain. "John…" she began, but then her fury turned itself, moving away from him and onto the world that had scarred him so. "We came after you because you are our friend," she told him, "and because the Atlantis is our home, and because this is the life that we have chosen."
He smiled in response, but she did not think that he truly believed her, not yet.
Weeks passed. Summer turned into autumn, and Rodney had explored the small Dutch town down to every last detail, had located everyone with even a smattering of intellect, and had exchanged theories in charade form and badly-accented Latin. Sheppard grew stronger, but even Rodney could see that something wasn't entirely right.
"Are you sure you want to come with us?" Sheppard asked him once, when they were lounging together on the deck, half-heartedly debating the issues raised in a month-old issue of the Spectator.
Rodney blinked, taken by surprise. "Of course."
It was true, he realised. He had made his decision on impulse, months ago in the Caribbean Sea, and perhaps if they had departed immediately around the world, he might have lived to regret it. But now his decision had been tested, and still stood firm. He had thrown his dice in with Sheppard's once and for all back in Lymington, when he had refused to run away, and in Winchester, when he had gone up against the law of the land. No, perhaps it was earlier than that. It was in London, where he had entirely failed to be respectable, and it was in Gloucestershire, where his father had given him only mockery and furious incomprehension.
"Of course," he said again, and he had not realised how much of a weight had laid on his heart, not until it upped and left, just like that.
"We will have to hire another crew," John said, but Teyla just smiled, and said, "Give it another week."
Carson returned first, armed with packages from his mother, and dressed in wine-red velvet, "now that I'm a respectable man." The others came in ones and twos and threes, until by the end of October, fully two thirds of the crew had returned.
On the first day of November, they cast anchor. Teyla joined John at the rail, as he looked up at the full sails. After a few minutes, McKay and Ronon took up their places on either side. Teyla wore trousers, the better to haul ropes, but she wore a brooch on her bodice, and her hair was neatly braided.
"Where are we actually, er… going?" McKay asked.
John leant back against the rail, turning his face to the sky. "Does it matter?"
"Uh… No. No, I don't suppose it does." McKay pulled on his lip with his teeth, then mirrored John's pose, looking up to the white sails above. "No," he said, with something close to wonder in his voice. "I don't suppose it does."
And John laughed, just with the pure joy of the moment. It was, Teyla thought, the first time she had ever seen him do that.
"But if…" McKay raised a finger. "If you can find a way to go somewhere where I can discover something or analyse something or invent something or theorise on something…"
"We will, Rodney. If we can."
"Royal Society, you know." McKay cleared his throat. "And not dying horribly would be a plus. Not having to rescue you from certain death. Though I suppose you'd rather avoid such things, too. I broke into an apothecary's, you know. Though you got hanged…"
"Not dying horribly would definitely be a plus," John agreed.
Teyla looked at Ronon, and saw him struggling to suppress a laugh. Unbidden at the far end of the Atlantis, someone started singing a song of a never-ending voyage, and the ship that was their home.
She joined in, smiling through tears, as the sun rose ahead of them, calling them on.
Richard Woolsey, painted by Thomas Bateman, 1732
Until the discovery of the documents used as the basis for this story, Richard Woolsey was just a footnote in history – a minor merchant's son working as a petty clerk in an office loosely attached to the Admirality. This tale reveals a whole new side to him. Clearly he was a figure of considerable importance in the early Georgian secret service. Considerably more research is required in this field.
1. A note on the source material
In January 2008, after forty years of bring-and-buy sales, the St Peter's Church in Winchelsea finally reached its target in its church roof appeal. Work commenced in April 2008, and it was in May of that year that the workmen found a stash of closely-written documents in a small lead-lined box that had apparently been used for a roof tile, perhaps in a time of privation and shortage of lead, or perhaps as an act of literary criticism. These documents consisted of scraps of letters, reports, musings and even the beginnings of an autobiography, all written by Rodney McKay. The story called The Price of a Pardon is, of course, a fictionalised version of the tale, but the events themselves are taken from the newly-discovered documents, and many of McKay's original words have been preserved.
How accurate are McKay's documents likely to be? It is clear that McKay was fond of exaggerating his own importance, but many of his claims stand up to scrutiny, in particular his characterisation of smuggler-infested Lymington at this time. There is, of course, no report of any attempt on the king's life during his tour of the southern counties – the only "progress" of his reign – but McKay's account offers a good explanation for this silence. It is difficult to argue with his solution for the famous chiffre indechiffrable, often called the Vigenere cipher, which is there in black and white, over a hundred years before Charles Babbage made his own solution. Crytographic histories will have to be rewritten.
How the documents came be keeping the rain off the faithful in Winchelsea is, however, a mystery that will probably never be solved
2. Famed in Song and Story: a Hero of Renown – part 2
A short overview of the folk tradition surrounding John Sheppard and his crew
In part one, we examined the extant ballads that told of Captain Sheppard and his crew. Many sources were searched, and we believed that we had discovered every scrap of song and story that had been recorded. Then came the discovery of the incredible sheaf of documents that were used as the basis for the preceding story. This showed us that several pieces of lore and song that had previously been thought to be unrelated did, in fact, tell of Captain Sheppard and his crew, even if the original tellers had no inkling of this fact.
Captain Ford, the Highway Robber
Only one copy of this ballad exists, printed in Winchester by Anthony Brown, stone mason, grocer and printer, in 1739. For the most part, it is a fairly generic example of the "highwayman's last words", probably written and prepared before the event. The two verses referring to the escape appear to have been hastily added, and the traditional closing moral has been stubbornly adhered to, even though the moral of the story might more appropriately be, "you can get away with anything as long as you have loyal friends."
My name is Captain Ford, I'd be bound for to say,
And I went a robbing upon the highway.
With a brace of good pistols and trusty broad sword,
Oh, "Stand and deliver!" was always the word.
If I meet with a poor man who's hungry and dry,
With victuals and drink, his wants I supply,
We drink rum and brandy till I've spent all my store,
And when it's all spent I go robbing for more.
I went on the road with my pistols in hand,
I met a rich squire and I bade him to stand,
But there in the bushes, six men were concealed,
With muskets and pistols they bade me to yield.
As three stood before me, three seized me behind,
And in Winchester gaol I was closely confined.
I was tried and found guilty – the judge he did cry,
'Prepare yourself, wretch, for tomorrow you die.'
My father he weeps and says 'I am undone.'
My mother she wails for the death of her son,
For my wicked ways have proved my downfall,
And now I will hang on the gallows so tall.
But up spoke his comrades, a dastardly gang,
'Oh, shall our bold captain be suffered to hang?'
Like wolves in sheep's clothing, they hid in the crowd,
And there from the gallows, to save him they vowed.
With evil and devilry, they summoned thick smoke,
And as he was hanging, they shot through the rope,
And then these bold rogues from the city did flee.
He came there to die, and he went away free.
My name's Captain Ford, I am bound for to say,
And I go a-robbing upon the highway,
With pistols in hand and my friends by my side,
When night falls on England, I rove and I ride.
So come all ye rovers wherever you be,
Attend to my tale and take warning from me:
If you want to live till you're old and you're grey,
Don't go a-robbing upon the highway.
The merchant's daughter
Francis Ward, a young clergyman who took up a living in southern Gloucestershire in 1831, took a great interest in the folklore and folk tales of his flock. In a letter of 1833, he describes the following conversation.
"After I had lectured her about the importance of cold feet and hungry bellies in creating a proper sense of holiness in the poor, I had her tell me another of her tales. 'Oh yes,' said she. 'I will tell you the tale of the merchant's daughter and the gypsy. It was a great, great house, down Bristol way. A rich merchant had a beautiful daughter called Rosalind, and she had suitors come to her from all over the world, but she would have none of them, and sat in a tall tower…' 'A tall tower?' quoth I. 'In a merchant's house in Bristol?' 'A tall tower,' she insisted, 'gazing at the stars, and dreaming. And one day she saw a wild gypsy from her window, tall and strong and with wild dark hair, and she ran away with him and was never seen again, even though her father roused half the shire to hunt her down.'
"'No! No!' cried another rustic, overhearing. 'It wasn't a merchant's daughter, it was a merchant's son. I know, because I once saw the house with my own eyes. He was called Rhodri, and he was always a strange lad, gazing at the stars – you got that bit right, if nothing else – and talking in a tongue that no-one could understand. His father despaired, but those in the village who saw him, those in the village not blinded with book-learning… They knew the truth. Rhodri was a changeling, a fairy child, and one day a wild creature from below the hill came to bring him home. He was tall and dangerous with long dark hair, and he rose up from the ground in the fairy dell, and he dragged Rhodri into a wild hedgerow, and Rhodri was never seen again.'
"I left them arguing, both of them fervently believing that their story was the true one. I can only assume that at some point in the past, a merchant's daughter did indeed run away with a gypsy – a shocking thing, indeed! – but that in the mind of my second informant, it has become confused with a heathen tale from beyond the River Severn. Rhodri is, of course, a Welsh name, and fairies, as all right-thinking men of letters know, do not exist."
I spent months debating whether to write this story. The Pirate's Prisoner is so special to me that I was terrified that a poor sequel would ruin it. However, as the months went by, I came to realise that I felt that a sequel was necessary. Rodney made his decision to join Sheppard on impulse, and it really hadn't been tested. I started worrying that the happy ending of the first story would fall apart at the first hint of adversity, and so I wanted to take the characters one step further on their journey, to a place where I was far more certain that their happy ending would work.
I've made very little up in this story. Lymington was indeed a notorious haunt of smugglers, and there are indeed numerous reports (admittedly none of them verified) of tunnels running from the various inns to the river. The king did indeed travel to this area in the summer… well, the summer of 1722, but I decided that it was acceptable to move it by one year in order to fit the time-scale of my story. (I did consider moving the entire story on a year, but, perversely, felt happier moving history than fiction.) Wheeler is made up, but Jacobites were actively plotting at around this time. In fact, the Earl of Orrery, subject of Rodney's vitriol in chapter one, was imprisoned on suspicion of Jacobite plotting in 1722.
Elements of the first story were inspired by A Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, so it felt only right to take inspiration from its sequel, Queen's Play, in this story. Those who have read that book will, I hope, recognise the incident in question.
I really enjoyed writing this, and I hope that fans of the first story are pleased with the sequel. Thank you for reading!
The entire story in a single file can be found here