In which a pirate is brought to justice
"It is definitely Sheppard." Lorne had struggled to keep the telescope steady, his hands were quivering so much.
"And Kolya," Barrington added, not for the first time.
The two pirate ships were already separating, and Lorne had to choose which one to go after. There was not the slightest room for doubt in his mind. "Sheppard is our target."
"But Kolya…" Barrington spoke quietly, keeping his dissent hidden from the crew. "He has done far more damage to innocent shipping than Sheppard has ever done. He has a fleet…"
"So the damage will continue even if we take the flagship," Lorne said. Sheppard. In front of him. Not moving. Not moving at all. "With Sheppard, we can eradicate the entire operation, root and branch." He dragged his gaze away from his enemy's ship to look his first lieutenant full in the face. "Sheppard was one of ours, Tom. Whatever evils Kolya has done, he did not betray our King. It is our duty to bring a traitor to justice."
Perhaps it had all been an illusion. He snapped his gaze back, but the Atlantis was still there, still not moving. With the wind behind them, they would be on her within the quarter hour.
"Kolya has left, and the Atlantis looks stricken," Barrington's voice said from beside him, but at the same time from so far away. "I suspect that Kolya's sword has already sent Sheppard before the final seat of judgement. He will have loaded the crew and the stores onto his own ship, and there will be nothing left on the Atlantis but death."
"But we still need to see him dead."
They drew closer. The strip of land grew larger – so familiar still, even after all these years. This time the tide was high, and the water was dark. His men had careful orders, even so. Reefs had claimed so many ships.
A lurch. "We're aground! She drove us aground!" A shuddering had run through the entire ship, almost as if she had been wailing and grieving for what had come to pass. But the orders had been calm, and the men had worked on until there had been no choice but to abandon ship and be taken in by the boats of the White Hart.
"Sir? Sir?" He wondered how often Barrington had called him. Lorne let out a breath, and raised the telescope, but it lurched, showing him a glimpse of the Atlantis, then a glimpse only of the empty sea. "It could be a trap, sir. It is an oft-used ploy – to pretend to be stricken, then attack the rescuers. Perhaps Sheppard and Kolya have joined forces and set up this charade."
"Not Sheppard," Lorne said with certainty. "Not Kolya." Lorne had been present when Sheppard had given Kolya the scar he still bore on his face. They had both been captains in other men's fleets, but the hatred between them had always been personal, ever since Kolya had turned his guns on a fleet of fishing boats and called it a legitimate act of war.
"But, with respect, sir, we need to be prepared…"
"I am prepared." He had been prepared for this for seven years. He had dreamt of this moment, longed for this moment. To have Sheppard in his power, alive or dead… To bring him to justice… To heal that jagged wound that Sheppard had left on his soul so many years ago…
And for it to happen here, in just this spot. It was as if the years had fallen away, and Lorne was seven years younger, watching the collapse of everything he had held certain in the world. The strip of land still shone beneath a sun-drenched sky, although the sea was smooth, no longer churning with the loss of a Navy sloop.
"I can see people on deck." He managed to force the telescope to stay steady. "I can see…" Men at the halyards. A figure with dark hair, giving an order. A flag rising on a ship that had famously flown no flag for nigh on seven years.
"I'll be damned," Barrington swore beside him. "He's surrendering."
"You're surrendering," Rodney exclaimed. "So this is it. After all this, after everything, you're just rolling over and surrendering at the first sign of trouble."
"Hardly the first sign, McKay." Sheppard threw the words over his shoulder as he worked, though it sounded as if his heart was not really in them.
"They'll hang you," Rodney persisted. "They'll hang the lot of you. I saw what was left of Calico Jack. It was horrible."
Sheppard ignored him. He had put on a dark coat over his damp shirt, covering the blood. He had given orders, speaking to his crew as if their treachery meant nothing. Beckett arrived on deck now in response to one of those commands. "None dead," Beckett said, "but it was a close-run thing. Nasty affair. Could have been worse, though."
"Indeed." Sheppard pressed his lips together in something that could have been a faint smile. "Look after Ronon."
Ronon spoke up, looking strained and horrendous as he struggled to stay upright. "You need it more."
"You're like little boys," Rodney cried, as justice approached them on white sails. "'He's hurt worse than me.' 'No, he's hurt worse than me.' It's stupid! Is it some silly manly pride thing? If I were hurt, you wouldn't catch me being so stupid as to pretend I wasn't."
"Little boys." Beckett clapped him on the back. "I've been thinking the same myself for years. I think I like you, McKay." Then he was all business again. "Ronon first. At least let me get you a crutch."
Rodney glanced for the hundredth time at the approaching British ship. There was no possibility of running, not now. The crew, he saw, was more still than he had ever seen them. They looked different, somehow – more small, more frail, more human. It was because they had all laid down their weapons, he realised. There were no knives in belts, no pistols strapped to their sides. Barefooted, and most of them wearing only shirts and breeches, they looked like prisoners already.
"It wasn't treachery," the one called Mr Christopher was saying. "It wasn't like he said. With you gone and with us caught unawares, and with all the hauling gear being used on that bell, I thought… I thought he would get us in the end, whatever we did. I remembered what you always said – that lives comes first. If we had fought on…"
"I would have returned to a ship full of corpses; I know." Sheppard nodded, smiling wearily. "It was my fault. I couldn't see anything except what lay below. I should have taken more precautions. And we're all still here, and the Atlantis is still afloat."
"And, excuse me, a great big Navy frigate is bearing down on you," Rodney could not keep from pointing out, "so I think this 'all's well that ends well; no harm done so no hard feelings' thing is a bit premature, not to mention stupid. You didn't even get to keep the treasure you were after. It was all for nothing. All of this, everything, for nothing."
"I hope not." Sheppard looked at the approaching ship. Rodney saw how fast his pulse was racing in the side of his neck, as if he had just run a race. When Sheppard turned to look him full in the face, Rodney almost gasped; he had grown accustomed, it seemed, to Sheppard looking away while talking to him. "You don't need to worry about your personal safety. Whatever happens, I'll make sure they know that you were my prisoner and were here under duress. This is your rescue." He gave the briefest flicker of a smile. "This is your sturdy hearts of oak coming to carry you home. You can dine out in Kingston for years to come on your tale of durance vile on a pirate ship."
"You think I care…?" Rodney blurted out, surprised both by the force of his feeling and the loudness of his words. He let out a breath. "Well, yes, of course I care about that. I don't want to die. I don't like pain. My mother's kitten – Mistress Henrietta, it was called; I ask you! – scratched me once, all along the arm, and… Well, the dining thing would be good, too. I believe they were quite unconscionably rude to me in Kingston, now that I come to think about it. They totally failed to appreciate me."
Sheppard was still standing there, bloody injuries hidden by his clothes. Ronon was standing upright, though he had consented to lean on a crutch, while Beckett was muttering about the stubbornness of idiot pirates who refused to lie down and make his job easier. Teyla had red marks at her wrist, and was more brave and more fierce and more loyal than most of the men Rodney had ever met in his life.
They were pirates. They were heartless, murderous, vile pirates, and they had grabbed Rodney from his bed, and they had threatened him and forced him to work for them, and they forced him to thieve, and they had nearly got him killed several times over.
And Sheppard had been willing to die to him. Sheppard had laid down his sword and presented his throat to Kolya, rather than sacrifice Rodney's life.
"I don't care about any of that," Rodney said quietly. "I don't want to see you hanged. I don't want to see any of you hanged. I… I'll put in a good word for you. I'll work hard. I'll do what my father wants me to do and I'll become a pillar of the local community, and… But that will be too late. That'll take years. I'm not good at being a pillar. I can expound, but I don't think I can persuade very well. I was never good at lawyer's rhetoric."
"Thank you, Rodney." Sheppard smiled, and Teyla touched his arm, and Ronon hobbled over – "Stop that!" Beckett grumbled – and clapped him on the back. And so, as the British ship drew so close that he could see the features of the men at its rail, Rodney stood with the pirates, as one of them.
His first thought was that Sheppard had not changed. As Lorne stepped onto the deck and began to walk towards him, part of him was a dozen years in the past, approaching the officer he had always admired more than any. Reality seemed to shift with every step. He had longed for this moment for so very long, and now it hardly seemed real.
His men flanked him with muskets and pistols, threatening slaughter if anyone made a false move. Sheppard, though, was utterly still, surrounded by his closest henchmen. The large savage appeared to have taken a wound to the leg, and when the surgeon who was working on it raised his head, Lorne realised that it was Beckett, who had once been surgeon on the Bright Phoebe.
"Captain Lorne." Sheppard inclined his head in greeting, and the voice was the same as it had always been, speaking across the years. Now that he was closer, though, Lorne could see that he had changed, after all. He did not look much older, but his face was more like stone. He had once had a supple face, expressive and quick to laugh, but there were lines beside his eyes and mouth that suggested that his expression now tended more to the grim.
"Sheppard." He managed to say his name steadily. He even managed to refrain from striking the man. Nothing felt real. He wondered if he would wake up to find that this whole thing had been a dream.
The shorter henchman started forward. "He isn't–"
"Be quiet, McKay," Sheppard snapped. "This man is my prisoner," he announced clearly, "here under duress. He is innocent of any wrong-doing, as are my men. They followed me out of loyalty."
Lorne's fist trembled with the urge to strike. I was loyal, too! "You really mean to surrender?" he asked, and it was horrible to find that this man could still hurt him, and totally ridiculous to feel hurt. "Just roll over without a fight and surrender?"
"Yes." Sheppard nodded. "I am placing myself at your mercy."
"Then you will receive none," he spat.
"No." Sheppard shook his head, and gripped the arm of the man called McKay, as if to forcibly silence him. "I do, however, have something I would like you to read. If you will permit me…?"
Lorne narrowed his eyes, but nodded with forced graciousness. He watched as Sheppard reached under his coat, and he nodded to his men to ready their weapons. "Not a weapon," Sheppard said quietly, as he pulled something out from his belt. He handed it towards Lorne, and Lorne cautiously took it.
It was a small oilskin packet, such as would contain important documents at sea. Lorne unfastened it, his hands trembling shamefully and visibly, and began to read.
It struck him like a knife in the heart. "It's a lie," he croaked.
"No." Sheppard sounded placid, but Lorne had once known him well, and knew that he was quivering with tension, as much or more as Lorne was himself. "You know his hand and his seal."
Lorne forced himself to read to the end. If it was true… If it was true… But handwriting could be imitated, and a seal could be stolen. No! He had shaped seven years around his knowledge of the truth. If this were true…
No-one could be allowed to hear it – nobody. "We talk about this alone," he rasped.
"These three come with me," Sheppard said. "Ronon and Teyla know the story already, and McKay deserves to hear it."
Lorne moved as if he had been struck on the head. The papers in his hand burnt like acid. "If it's true…" He stopped at the rail, where the wind would take their words out to the empty ocean. "My God, Sheppard, if this is true…"
"I had my suspicions," Sheppard said, beside him at the rail, "but I couldn't share them with you. I couldn't spread rumours without proof, not about something so huge. But I kept my eyes open. When I was on the White Hart that night, an opportunity presented itself to delve deeper. I found this."
Lorne gripped the rail, but he was half a league away, and it was evening, and his captain had gone to the flagship for dinner and a conference. The stars were bright, the war was almost over, and for one night only, he was in command of the ship.
"I tried to get back to the Bright Phoebe but Cunningham detained me on a series of pretexts. I thought I'd been careful, but he must have discovered that I had found him out. I managed to take a boat, as you know. That was when he ordered his men to raise the anchor and give pursuit."
Sheppard, urgently hailing them from below. "We have to go," he had gasped. "We have to go now." But the signal had not yet come from the flagship. Lorne had said as much, but Sheppard had been insistent. But the White Hart had come after them – their own flagship turning on them. The Phoebe had lost the top of her mast, had been driven towards shore. She had struck the reef, sharp and deadly in the low spring tide, and she had foundered.
"I hid the evidence in a lead-lined chest," Sheppard said, "and concealed it in my cabin. It's remained there for seven years at the bottom of the sea."
The boats had rescued them, bringing them to the deck of the White Hart. "You fired on us!" Lorne had spluttered, but then Cunningham had appeared and announced that he had commanded it. Sheppard had not wanted to leave the sinking sloop, but had been struck on the head by his rescuers and dragged onto the deck of the flagship. Still unconscious, he was bound in chains and hauled below. "You can't do that!" Lorne had shouted, but Cunningham had explained that he had no choice. Sheppard had turned traitor and had been selling secrets to the enemy. "Four ships have already been lost because of his treachery. Would you have us lose more, Lieutenant?"
"Why didn't you say something?" Lorne said now. He gripped the rail harder. "If your story is true, why didn't you say…?"
"They gave me no chance to speak, as well you know." Sheppard's voice was harsh. "And who would have believed me? My evidence had gone down with my ship. It was the word of a merchant's son from Boston against a viscount's son with friends at court."
"You believed him, Evan."
It was said quietly, without reproach, but Lorne had to look away. He had believed Cunningham. Yes, the commodore had claimed to have proof, but Lorne had never asked to see it; young officers were expected to believe their superiors without question, and certainly never ask for proof.
But most of Sheppard's crew had not believed it for a moment. When they had reached port, they had broken Sheppard free from the gaol, and had voluntarily turned themselves outlaw. Lorne had not been one of them. And so he had despised Sheppard ever since. He had needed Sheppard to be the traitor Cunningham had painted him, because if he was not, then Lorne had been the true traitor all along.
"But… But…" He swallowed, desperately trying to order his thoughts. "Cunningham's dead now, and his behaviour after the war lost him many friends, but he ended up an Admiral. This can't be spread abroad."
"What?" squawked the man called McKay. Lorne had forgotten all about his presence; had forgotten the presence of everything in the world, except for Sheppard
and the ghosts.
"An Admiral," Lorne repeated. "The King's Navy would never recover from the scandal. The common man would be singing ballads about it for the rest of the century."
"So you're just going to cover it up?" McKay's voice rose higher and higher. "Sheppard risked so much for this. I didn't understand at the time, but I understand it now. It was all for this. Everything… It was all for this. And you're going to…"
"No, he isn't." That was the large man, his voice as low as McKay's was high. The woman stood at his side, her face matching his for fury.
"He's the scapegoat," McKay said. "You're going to let the world go on thinking he's a traitor, because the true traitor is too important for his name to be sullied. It's… it's disgusting."
They really sounded as if they despised him. Sheppard was a pirate, and Lorne was a captain in the Royal Navy, who spent his time tirelessly protecting innocent seafarers from the depredations of pirates, but Sheppard was the one with the loyal friends. Even this McKay, apparently a prisoner, had somehow turned into Sheppard's fierce defender.
He made his decision – and, oh, that he was weary! "Only the King can grant a pardon," he said, "and this will have to be reported to my superiors, but I think this proof of yours will be enough. As I said, Cunningham had lost much of his influence before his death."
"So it isn't about justice at all," McKay said, "just influence. If this Cunningham was still alive and high in favour, this proof would be floating in scraps on the wind."
Lorne ignored him; that was just how life was, and you just had to live with it. "It can be put about that you were falsely accused due to the machinations of an unknown traitor. There is no need for Cunningham's name to be told outside the circle of those who need to know."
"Of course, there's still the matter of seven years of piracy…"
"Not helping, McKay."
Something twisted inside Lorne's chest. "You were driven to it by necessity," he said. "The people love such a thing. They will sing about you as a second Robin Hood."
"I doubt the King will take such a sanguine approach," Sheppard said.
But he would be pardoned, Lorne thought, not least because he knew too much. The Admiralty would have no desire to antagonise someone who had held evidence in hand about the treachery of one of their own. Sheppard's slate would be wiped clean, and he would be free to return home, not, perhaps, with honour, but at least without ignominy.
And as for Lorne, who had spent so many years trying to capture him? He felt as if his life was in tatters, and the future stretched ahead of him, full of nothing but ashes.
"So what are you going to do now?" Rodney asked, as the wind filled the sails of the newly patched-up Atlantis.
"What he's going to do now is sit down and let me take a look at him," Beckett said. "Let's see what nasties this coat is hiding." He began to peel it off, tutting angrily. "Now you're no longer a pirate, is it too much to hope that you might actually come placidly and let me stitch you up? Oh, this is too much! Sit down, lad, before you fall down. Before I clout you on the head, and make you," he added under his breath, as he lowered Sheppard to the deck. Sheppard, for his part, made only a token show of resistance, and ended up all but falling.
Rodney bit his lip while Beckett worked. There were several sword cuts, and they had bled horribly. Rodney knew exactly how much blood was contained in the human body, and it looked to him as if at least half of that was currently adorning Sheppard's shirt.
"Somebody bring me something to use as pillow," Beckett shouted. "Doesn't do for the captain to lie on the cold hard ground. Or a leg will do. No, not you, lad. Need I remind you that you have a nasty little gash on your thigh that will… Oh, thank you, lass. Hold his head and shoulders just so."
"What am I going to do?" Sheppard said. There was a faint hitch in his voice as Beckett worked. "I'm going to…"
"For God's sake, man, stop talking," Beckett snapped. "I'd rather you stopped breathing, too, but that wouldn't be wise, all things considered. Just stay still, and as for you… you stop encouraging him."
They sailed in convoy, and when Lorne looked through his telescope, he could sometimes see Sheppard on the deck of the Atlantis. He was never alone.
"I am so sorry," he had said to Sheppard, just before returning to his own ship. "I believed the worst of you. I know that I do not deserve forgiveness."
"I'm not one to hold grudges," Sheppard had said. "People make mistakes."
"No." Sheppard had clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't. You believed what a superior officer told you, just as we were all trained to do."
"But the men didn't – Beckett and the others."
"And all the other officers did." Sheppard's gaze had been sharp. "The men, as Beckett would say, are contrary buggers, and the fancier an officer's clothes, the more inclined they are to think everything he says is a pack of lies, even as they make their salutes and do what he tells them."
"But I thought…"
"No." The hand had tightened. "This wasn't your fault. You made a choice, and you didn't shirk from the consequences of that choice, and in the end, when presented with fresh evidence, you had the courage to admit that you were wrong. I don't hate you, Evan."
But I hurt you, Lorne had thought.
"You're a good officer," Sheppard had said. "You made your choice – don't let it ruin your life. Make your life a good one."
Lorne lowered the telescope, but the image of Sheppard and his friends was slow to fade. Let me sail with you, part of him had wanted to cry, but that part was quiet, now. Seven years had passed. Sheppard had new friends now – friends who deserved him. That part of Lorne's life would never come back, no matter how much he wished it.
Barrington appeared at his side. "So it's over, sir."
Lorne let out a breath. "Yes, Tom, it's over." Barrington was a good friend, and most of his other officers were fine men. He had his own ship, and he had brought many pirates to justice over the years. Kolya was still out there, his flagship only half a day away. Perhaps, after he had captured Kolya, he would go back to England, and retire. With a captain's pay, he could afford a modest house, and perhaps take a wife.
Make your life a good one, Sheppard had said, and he thought perhaps he could.
"So what are you going to do now?"
"Still he asks," Sheppard said. "Persistent, isn't he?"
It was the day after their encounter with Captain Lorne. Sheppard was reclining on deck, and Ronon was sitting stiffly beside him. Beckett, Rodney knew, had thrown his hands up in furious despair, saying that if they wanted to kill themselves, it was no fault of his, but he would get 'I told you so' inscribed on their grave stones after they had turned up their toes and died.
Sheppard looked at him. Despite the lines of pain, there was something different about his face now, though Rodney had no idea what it was. "You can go back to Kingston, of course, and resume the life we so rudely ripped you from."
He didn't want to go back to Kingston. He hated Kingston. "They laughed at me," he said.
"As for me…" Sheppard stretched out his legs, wincing. "I'm supposed to report to the Governor, then head back to England to await his Majesty's pleasure. Lorne is sure that a pardon is on its way, but it needs to be sealed by the King's fair hand."
"Oh." A bird passed overheard, rejoicing in the thermals.
"I've got men who haven't been home in ten years," Sheppard said, "seven of them spent outside the law. They need to go home."
"Of course." Everybody wanted to go home in the end, didn't they?
Sheppard raised his head, watching the same bird. "I can sleep in a bed that doesn't move. I can go home, and see what a mess my brother's made of father's business."
"Oh," Rodney said. He wandered off after that.
Sheppard took a turn for the worse in the night, and was confined to his cabin for three days. Ronon carried on walking around the deck with his crutch, though he was clearly in agony. When Sheppard emerged, Teyla hovered beside him protectively. Rodney swallowed hard, and took up the same position at Ronon's side, telling himself that although the man could be scary at times, he was most definitely not a savage.
"I don't want to go back to Kingston," he blurted out, one evening. Ronon just looked at him, but later that night, Rodney said the same thing to Sheppard. "I don't want to go back to Kingston."
"Back to England, then," Sheppard said.
"I have never been to England," Teyla said quietly, and Ronon added, "Neither have I."
This should have been Rodney's cue to tell them how marvellous it was. He could tell them about the green fields and the rolling hills, about the solid oak trees and the country churches, about the bustle of the ports and the beauty of its universities, and about the staunch undaunted freedom of a people who kicked out kings when they trampled on their freedoms, and sometimes even chopped their heads off.
But he had never liked the green fields – he kept standing in unpleasant things that issued from cows – and the country churches were full of Duty and tedious sermons. The ports were full of fathers who wanted you to abandon your dreams and bury your life in ledgers and figures, and the universities were full of rich idiots who thought they were better than you just because their fathers had a title. Even liberty seemed to count for nothing when an innocent man could be condemned for treason just because his accuser had friends at court.
In England, his future was mapped out. He would inherit his father's business, and science would become just a distant memory. People would laugh at him behind their hands, and he would marry Charlotte Dauncey who would produce sticky-fingered brats who would ruin all his work.
He opened his mouth to speak, but Teyla interrupted him, her voice low and fierce. "I have no desire to go back home," she said. "I have no desire to wear skirts again. I will not return to a life of embroidery and duty."
"Got nothing to go back to," Ronon said.
Sheppard was silent for a very long time. "Of course," he said at last, "there's no need to stop at England. We can pop by, pick up our pardons, let the lads go home and see their loved ones, if that's what they want. Of course, we'd need to visit a certain island first…"
Rodney frowned, then gasped. "Buried treasure. You mean buried treasure."
"Of course." Sheppard looked quite pleased with himself. "Enough to keep every man in food and clothes for a dozen years, even if we have no further source of income."
"Besides, you were never very good at being a pirate," Ronon said.
"Hey!" Sheppard protested. "I was very good. I was the second most notorious pirate in the Caribbees."
"That was because of the treachery thing. You had a huge list of people we weren't allowed to steal from."
"He did, you know," Teyla said, clearly for Rodney's benefit. "It ran to three pages."
"Easier to list who we were allowed to steal from," Ronon said gruffly. "Slavers, and other pirates." He, too, turned to Rodney. "Most of the treasure came from Kolya."
"Oh." Rodney's brain was slow to catch up. "So you let Kolya rob innocent travellers on the high seas, then you robbed him, and this was somehow moral how?"
"It felt more acceptable," Sheppard said stiffly, "but that's not the point."
"What is the point?"
Sheppard looked up at the sky, where the first stars were beginning to appear. "The point is," he said slowly, as if Rodney was the stupid one, "that I am proposing giving up piracy – I really ought to, what with the pardon and all – and becoming a legitimate mariner, as free as a bird, as the songs say. Let Lorne hunt Kolya. I feel like circumnavigating the world."
"Oh." Rodney felt the movement of the deck, as familiar to him now as the sound of his own breathing.
"The stars in the southern hemisphere are different, you know." Sheppard's voice was suddenly quiet. "There are islands with strange species not yet studied by any man in Christendom. There are strange rocks, and places where the tides go backwards."
"Tides can't go backwards."
Sheppard shrugged, and in that moment Rodney realised what had changed about him. He looked as if a huge weight had been removed from his shoulders. His movements were less taut, and his smile was more free. What would he have been like had the shadow of treachery not fallen upon him so many years before?
"There will be fresh wrecks to explore," Sheppard said, "and –"
"You're asking me if I want to come with you," Rodney gasped.
Sheppard said nothing, just quirked an eyebrow, but there was no need even to consider it. "Of course I am. Why? Did I look as if I wasn't?"
Above them, the stars grew brighter. Music drifted up from the hatches, as people sang of hope and the open sea, and for once Rodney's heart felt so full that he had no desire to express it in words. His smile, and the smiles of his friends, said more than words could ever say.
Francis Christopher spent fifteen years sailing with Captain Sheppard before he retired and settled in Dover, where he bought an inn. When his inn sign was blown away in a storm, he painted a new one. So admired was this new sign, that he soon was able to set up in business as a painter of signs and murals. Six pieces of his work survive, four of them depicting male figures clearly modelled on the same man. Scholars believe that this man was Captain Sheppard himself, painted by the aged sailor from memory as he longed for the glory days of his youth. This picture is a Victorian sketch of his sign for the Jolly Pirate in Winchelsea. It is the nearest we have, and perhaps will ever have, to a likeness of Captain John Sheppard.
Famed in Song and Story: a Hero of Renown
A short overview of the folk tradition surrounding John Sheppard and his crew
The figure of Captain Sheppard appears to have captured the English imagination. There are a dozen extant examples of broadside ballads, the earliest bearing a date of 1748 and the imprint of Mr Reeves, a part-time printer and apothecary from Cheltenham. Cecil Sharp collected over a dozen versions in 1908-9, most of them showing only minor variations from the printed versions. The version reproduced here is dated 1754. The confusion in narrative voice is typical of the time.
Come all ye lads who plough the seas, come listen to my song -
It is a stirring ditty, and it won't detain you long.
It is a tale of piracy, upon the raging Main –
A tale of lies and loyalty, in good King George's reign.
I was brought up in Boston, John Sheppard is my name,
But as a son of Neptune, I lately earned my fame.
I listed in the Navy and I boldly went to sea,
And served my Queen with honour – 'twere none so brave as he.
But one there was upon his ship, a traitor to the crown.
"I plan to fell this hero bold; I envy his renown!"
Why evil filled this traitor's heart, I cannot know or tell;
His name is writ in water and his soul will burn in Hell.
Through the traitor's wicked lies, this hero lost his name.
His wrists were bound in iron bands, his feet in fetters twain,
But Sheppard called a little bird: "Oh fly and find my crew
For some there are – just one, just two – who know that I am true."
They came for him in dead of night and freed him from his chains,
They did so out of loyalty, and not through hope of gain.
Not one, not two, not three of them, but fully twenty-nine,
They willingly turned outlaw, upon the storm-tossed brine.
So I was forced to piracy upon that raging Main,
Like Robin Hood upon the deep, I robbed the lords of Spain,
(But honest sturdy English folk, I let them sail on by.)
My name became a bitter curse; my mother wept and sighed.
My ship was called Atlantis, a noble brigantine.
The crew who served upon that ship were loyal, brave and fine.
For seven years and many leagues, we sailed upon the sea,
But oh! my heart was weary, for the traitor still walked free.
But at the end of seven years, this hero's race was run.
"Alas! Alas!" his men all cried, "Our captain is undone!"
But then upon the deck he cast the proof that cleared his name,
And so once more John Sheppard gained his honour and his fame.
So here's to Captain Sheppard as he sails upon the sea!
And cursed be all traitors, wherever they may be!
And here's to Captain Sheppard's crew, so loyal, stout and bold!
And here's to all true Englishmen – and now my story's told.
Teyla Emmagen was also immortalised in song. Hers appears to have been one of the earliest examples of the family of songs that tell of women who dress themselves up in man's array in order to enlist or go to sea. (c.f. The Female Drummer Boy, High Germany, The Handsome Cabin Boy etc.) The example reproduced here is an oddity. It was collected by Percy Grainger in 1907, from "Daddy" Wiggins in Burford workhouse, but while most songs of this type rejoice in the daring of the female protagonist, the last two verses of this version tell a different tale. Grainger conjectured that some well-meaning vicar had clumsily replaced the existing verses with lines that better reflected the sort of lesson he wished his parishioners to learn. Although our anonymous scribe has clearly attempted to follow the conventions of folk song, the difference of style and message is very clear.
It's of a pretty female, as you shall understand,
Her mind was set for roving into some foreign land.
She dressed herself in man's array, as you will shortly see,
And left her home and family, resolved to go to sea.
A man attired in captain's clothes was walking on the strand.
She signed with him for seven years and left her native land.
He was a pirate brave and bold, a man of deadly fame;
His name it was John Sheppard, and Tailor (sic) was her name.
Her hand was long and slender, and her cheek was dusky gold,
Her waist was small, her hair was long, or so I have been told.
The crew all sighed and rolled their eyes, and cried aloud in joy:
"What a pretty lad he is, this handsome cabin boy!"
In battle she was fearless – an Amazon was she!
She bent her back to oar and rope, and ploughed the raging sea.
"No boy am I!" at last she said, grown weary of her lie.
"I always knew you were a lass," bold Sheppard made reply.
And soon her skin grew tough and coarse; she learnt to curse and swear.
She slept beside a hundred men! Men's breeches she did wear!
No husband now will have her; she will never be a wife.
She refused her female duty, and threw away her life.
So all you foolish headstrong maids, a warning take from me.
If you would put on man's attire and roam the raging sea,
Remember that a maiden should be modest, meek and mild,
And marry where her parents wish, and bear her man a child.
No songs survive about Ronon Dex. His name, however, appears to have become a byword for strength. Francis Griffin, pastor of Cerne Abbas, wrote in a letter of 1876:
"My son is strong as a Ronon, and as bold, too." Thus boasted Mrs Ward, doughty mistress of the belaying pin, as I overheard her from behind a hedge. After lecturing her on the sin on pride, I could not refrain from asking who this Ronon was, not remembering him in the Bible or the pages of the heathen Greeks. She mumbled something about some famous pirate. "Something to do with Captain Sheppard, I do believe, him as we hear tell of in old Gaffer Watkins' party piece, when he has some ale in him. You should have heard him sing it at the Whitsun Wakes in '63 – or was it '64? – proper stirring, it was." I told her sternly that it did not do to call on pirates' names in one's similes, and instructed her to use the name of Samson in future."
Despite the disapproval of hectoring parsons, the saying lived on. The Opies, researching for their seminal book on children's playground law in the late 1950s, recorded "as strong as Ronon" in several schools in Dorset, and in one school in Warwickshire, children vied with each other to "be the Ronon" in one particularly rough game.
The name of Rodney McKay does not survive in folk tradition. Alexander Pope, however, penned this epigram in 1720:
"Here stand I, the name's McKay
A man with far too much to say."
Needless to say, this is not up to Pope's usual standard.
The entire story (with pictures) can be found in a single file here
I had a whale of a time writing this story. I'd write in lunch breaks. I'd scurry home from work, write non-stop until bedtime, lie awake writing in my head, then get up at dawn and write for a few more hours before work. I wrote the whole thing in eight days flat, and loved every moment of it.
The folk songs and folk tales in the story are all genuine, by the way. Those in the appendix, of course, are not, though I included small turns of phrase from many real songs. Just in case anyone reaches this page by googling "folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp", or the like, I should say quite clearly that although the collectors are real, the songs and lore are totally made up.
It's probably of no interest to anyone but me, but I found the writing process very different from any other story I've done. My long stories are normally quite character/psychology based, and defy planning. I have a rough idea of where I'm going, but the characters tend rebel and take the story in totally different directions from what I expected. In this case, though, I was able to outline the entire story from the start, down to the (rough) content of each chapter – and I actually stuck to it!
Now some thanks:
- To the lovely Gateworld Shepwhumpers who started talking about Pirate Shep a couple of weeks ago, thus giving me the idea in the first place. I wrote a small fragment of a story, and several people urged me to continue it. While that fragment didn't lend itself to continuation, the general idea embedded itself in my mind, combined itself with vague ideas arising from the gen ficathon captives prompt, and turned into this story.
- To sholio for running the gen ficathon, whose captive prompt was the other half of the inspiration for this story, and for kindly granting me an extension when I was gazing in horror at 42,000 words of editing and five not-yet-started pictures.
- To king_pellinor, (whose name I borrowed some years ago for my own writing), who let himself be interrupted every fifteen minutes in his computer gaming, as I asked searching questions about eighteenth century ships and weapons, and who then read the entire thing and made lots of helpful suggestions.
- To all the authors of the books and websites that I used for research. At times I was pausing every few minutes to look up a fact, or to leaf through one of the large piles of children's books on ships and pirates that I'd grabbed from work. (Children's books are so much better than adult ones for this.)
- To all the artists whose work I've plundered. I'm not good at drawing from the imagination, so all the pictures are based on poses from other people's work, some of them eighteenth century, and some modern.
- To all the novelists whose work I've deliberately referenced. Rodney was referring to books all the time, so I thought I'd play the same game, and slipped in almost-quotes from several of my favourite books. (Bonus points for anyone who spots any of them.) I particularly have to credit Dorothy Dunnett, who inspired me to write a story in which we never see into the mind of the focal character, but instead hear his story through the eyes of someone who's biased against him and misunderstands him from the start.
And thanks for reading! Feedback, of course, is always welcomed with open arms, although I'm away at a folk festival from Saturday morning until Monday night, so replies might be a bit delayed.