'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.
It had been a fortnight since the pirates' victory in the Battle of the Maelstrom. Spirits were still running high aboard the Black Pearl, as exemplified by the volume of post-dinner singing in her crowded galley, over the just-distributed mugs of grog. Nearly every voice, melodious and otherwise, contributed to raucous sound:
"In Plymouth Town there lived a man
Who kept a tavern on the strand,
This man, he had a daughter fair,
With fulsome tits and golden hair.
A sailor, he comes by one day-
One glimpse, he knows he'd like to stay!
She winks and whispers in his ear:
"Right after dark, just come back here."
So he returns when darkness falls,
He find a string hung down the wall,
The sailor, he pulls on this string-
The lass comes down and lets him in!
He's ne'r seen such a sight before-
The finger string was all she wore!
The sailor stays the whole night through,
At break of day rejoins his crew.
The tale he tells soon gets around,
So next nightfall in Plymouth town
Twelve lusty sailors pull that string-
The wench comes down and lets them in!"
The verses became ever more bawdy, describing what ensued next. The jovial buccaneers roared with approval.
At the end of one galley bench, the ship's newest crewmembers- Murtogg and Mullroy- participated as loudly as anyone else. The taller man sitting beside them was contrastingly quiet. Not from offended propriety- he'd sung many a ribald shanty with messmates aboard Naval ships- but from lack of fellow feeling. Theodore Groves was feeling quite isolated this eve. His two former subordinates had had little difficulty adjusting to life on a pirate vessel, but Groves knew that was a transition he'd never make. It was as if, after years of traveling together, he'd taken a different turn from theirs and was now in an entirely separate strait.
As so often happened, his memory strayed back to those frightening moments when everything had changed; his desperate leap from Endeavour's disintegrating deck, swimming with panicked speed, diving as orange heat seared the air. He'd received just a few splinter cuts from that explosion- the only crewmember to escape fatal injury, it seemed- and had managed to stay underwater 'til the hellish glow faded. But he'd met only despair upon surfacing. Every single ship in the proud armada was fading in the distance. The uncanny events they'd just witnessed had spooked even the most battle-hardened captains into retreat.
Then, a menacing shadow darkened the water- he'd turned to see a looming black hull closing in. Believing he was now balanced between a drowning death or a tortuous one, he readied himself to dive deep and empty his lungs at the nadir, to deprive the hovering demons of their prey. But he'd delayed a moment too long, and an entirely unexpected voice had brought him up short.
"Mr. Groves! It's safe to come aboard! I've told the crew you're worth a big ransom!"
Startled, he'd looked up- recognized the beautiful face above the ship's rail. Elizabeth Swann, staring earnestly down at him. The surprise froze him another fatal second. Then that half-decent rogue, Jack Sparrow, had appeared by her side.
"Aye, you have the Captain's guarantee of safe conduct, lad! Pirates don't mishandle a source o' easy shine."
Theodore supposed he'd always have moments when he'd recall his decision with shame, but at the time the prospect of continued existence appeared marginally better. So when the jacob's ladder was lowered he'd seized it and climbed aboard, onto a deck full of jubilant buccaneers- most too absorbed in celebration to take any notice of him. He'd stood, stoic and dripping, as a pair of scruffy tars relieved him of his coat and effects. Captain Sparrow had instructed them to escort the prisoner down to the brig, adding, "Does at least one of you know where that is?"
"Aye, sir. We noticed," one answered- another astonishingly familiar voice. Groves' eyes snapped to his escorts' faces. They were none other than two former shipmates, wearing ragged pirate weeds. Giles Murtogg and Angus Mullroy, if he recalled correctly.
Dazed by this lightning succession of turnarounds, Groves had simply complied as the pair escorted him below decks, and politely locked him into the reasonably spacious brig. One had scrounged up a bundle of dry clothing for him- worn and stained, but safer than his uniform. It would be dangerous to constantly remind this scalywag crew that he was Navy.
The two deserters had stepped out to let him change in privacy. Groves had been left to gather himself for a quarter-hour. Sufficient time for him to present a sternly composed face when the pirate captain returned, accompanied by Mullroy, Murtogg, and an older bloke with an improbably avuncular face.
Sparrow'd got straight down to business. "Lieutenant Groves, I must first inform you that Mrs. William Turner- nee Elizabeth Swann- recently disembarked from this vessel to attend to her post-nuptial duties. But she has decreed, by the power invested in her by the Brethren Court, that yer fine Naval self is not ta be subjected ta any extraneous mistreatment, on the grounds that an undamaged hostage fetches a higher ransom. So theer's no necessity fer yer stay amongst us ta be egregiously unbearable, as long ez you do as instructed an' make no attempts at escape or sabotage. Savvy?"
"I understand," Groves had answered neutrally.
Sparrow then turned sharply to his newly-acquired crewmembers. "I'm puttin' you two scabrous dogs in charge of keeping an eye on this gent, ta make sure nobody violates any terms of our just-described accord. Think you can handle that?"
"Aye-aye, sir!" Mullroy had answered, accompanied by Murtogg's "Arrrr! Avast!"
Jack had snorted- he definitely knew who they were!- before jerking a thumb towards the older pirate. "This is Quartermaster Gibbs, who'll be seein' to yer work assignments. The battle's left us a bit shorthanded; theer's no sense keepin' a perfectly able body in the brig. You'll be confined to these accommodations after dark, but, barring any flouting of the rules, you can count on spendin' yer daylight hours elsewhere. Is that agreeable to you, Navyman Groves?"
Though Theo hadn't altogether trusted the pirate captain's word, he'd replied "It is, Captain." Just in case.
So Sparrow had ordered Gibbs to take over, and sauntered off. Gibbs and the two deserters had accompanied Groves to the foredeck, where a soggy heap of sails was awaiting the mending needle. Gibbs advised, "Just do your work an' count yer blessings, lad. These're far from the roughest waters you could've landed in."
That was undoubtedly true, so Groves took the advice. Mullroy and Murtogg, faithful to their instructions, had shielded him from all would-be bullies. "Just leave him be- Captain's Orders!" The occasional dirty looks and muttered insults, Groves could endure.
He was initially concerned his guardians' deference to him would betray their background, but it soon became clear that nobody cared. Navy deserters were perfectly acceptable recruits into piratedom. The highly placed Mr. Gibbs, he learned, had that very origin.
As days passed, the crew learned to treat their captive as though he were a low-ranked tar. Like any sailors, buccaneers spent much of their time attending to shipboard tasks, and somebody had to do to the more noisome ones: pumicing the deck, working the bilge pumps, tarring the chinks. As long as Groves performed these chores with proper diligence, almost nobody bothered themselves about him.
After two weeks, the only individual who still displayed open hostility towards Groves was the pugnacious Captain Barbossa (having two Captains aboard must be a pirate thing, Theo assumed.) And even that rotter seemed content with ordering the prisoner around in a needlessly harsh manner. Still, Theo made a point to never let the man catch him alone.
Other than that, and sleeping in the brig, the Lieutenant's routine was not much different from his days as a midshipman... except for feeling far more lonely. No crewman wanted to befriend a naval officer, who'd soon be leaving their ship in any case. He did have his paired guardians to talk with, but their conversations had an unfortunate tendency to devolve into the most ridiculous arguments.
They weren't particularly good singers, either. As the gallery crowd finished the bawdy ballad and began another, Theo decided his grog ration wasn't worth this. He pushed the mug over the boards to Murtogg. "Here. You two'll get more joy out of this than I will."
"That's much appreciated, sir!" As the pair divided the drink between them, Groves slipped from the galley and headed topside. It was a bit risky for him to leave his escort behind, but his need for fresh air had become urgent.
He climbed up the hatch, emerging onto the twilit deck. A quick glance confirmed Barbossa was not present. The helm was being manned by that silent pirate with the blue-and-gold macaw (which supposedly spoke for him, though Theo wasn't at all clear how.) The only other person in view was Captain Sparrow, seated on the quarter-deck stairs, regarding the brightly-smudged horizon where the sun had just set. He had a plate with remnants of a meal beside him, and a half-full rum bottle in hand.
Noting the new arrival, he called "Evening, Mr. Groves!" in the same tone he'd use to address any of his crew.
"Good evening, sir," the lieutenant replied. Figuring Sparrow would afford him some protection should the other Captain appear, he moved to the rail near the stairway. When Jack good-naturedly patted the stair below his, Groves accepted the invitation and sat.
"No green flash this eve," Sparrow remarked. Theodore wasn't sure how to respond to that, so said nothing.
The macaw noisily ruffled his wing feathers. "Rawwk! Wind at your back!"
"So it is. We're makin' good time to Jamaica- you'll soon be home." The Captain's eye narrowed slightly. "That is, assumin' you gave us an accurate estimate of how much ransom yer Da could afford."
Theo answered slowly. "Actually, I quoted a slightly lower figure. I assumed you'd add something to it."
Sparrow nodded approvingly. "Always pegged you fer a smart lad. Theer should be no difficulties makin' the exchange, then. In jus' a couple weeks ye'll be back amongst the civilized." He took a swig from the bottle, offered it to Groves, who politely declined. "Can you say what yer plannin' ta do afterwards?"
The navyman almost sighed, for that was not a happy prospect. "There will be the inevitable scramble to assign blame for the armada's defeat. I may well be drummed out of the Navy, simply for having been aboard the Endeavour when she so spectacularly failed. I can actually deal with expulsion better than some. My father owns a tannery in Kingston. He was rather disappointed by my disinterest in taking over the business... he'll certainly give me a position there if I ask. I should give him at least few years of labor, to make repayment for my ransom."
Jack pressed his lips- did Groves detect just a flicker of guilt? "No cause fer this misadventure ta keep you landbound fer good, lad. How about after that debt's been settled?"
The lieutenant regarded him keenly. "It's out of the question for me to take up piracy, if that's what you're leading up to. I'm aware some of your crew are former navymen, including Misters Mullroy and Murtogg. They should do fine here- they're happy anyplace they can pursue their ludicrous debates. But I could never follow their example. Lawlessness goes too deeply against my grain, even knowing, as I now do, that honor and dishonor exist on both sides of that line. Furthermore..." Groves paused. His other objection might be construed as provocative.
"You have permission ta speak freely, sailor," the Captain assured.
"Furthermore: even if I had such inclination, I think we're both aware your victory over Beckett has only earned you a temporary reprieve. Piracy's days are numbered. Civilization is spreading too fast and far, for it to be otherwise. Your way of life may end in a gradual fade, instead of a bloody cataclysm, but end it shall."
Sparrow's jaw set, suggesting he'd come to the same conclusion. But he only said, "That's fer time ta tell, Mr. Groves."
"So... I shall simply have to find out what lawful seafaring opportunities are available to a discharged naval officer."
"Discharge might not be inevitable, lad. Last I heard, His Majesty was still in dire need of experienced salts, so perhaps they'll jus' reduce yer rank, or subject you to a reprimand. You might even get off with naught but strict orders ta never breath a word about this fiasco. It'll depend on whom stands ta take the worst broadside fer this embarrassment, an' where they'll try ta deflect it. One little Lieutenant who keeps his wits about him could yet manage ta slip between the shots."
"Time will tell that too, I suppose."
They regarded each other sympathetically. For the moment, they were not Pirate Captain and Prisoner, but two intelligent seamen speaking as equals. Groves decided to take advantage of that circumstance while it lasted.
"Captain Sparrow, I am about curious about something. I can't claim to have known Miss Swann... the current Mrs. Turner, particularly well. Did she give you any reason why she wanted clemency for me?"
"I believe 'twas largely out of regard fer the late Mr. Norrington. She knew he'd held you in high... eh?" Too late, Groves realized his shock must be showing plainly. "Ah. I take it your superiors did not see fit to inform you of yer former commander's demise."
"No... No, sir. I was not so informed." The Lieutenant struggled to keep the dismay from his voice. He did not entirely succeed.
Sparrow muttered something highly uncomplimentary about said superiors. "Then I'm sorry ta be the bearer of bad tidings." He offered the rum again. This time Groves took a fortifying swallow.
"You are quite certain about this, Captain?"
"'Fraid so, lad. I had it from an eyewitness with no discernible motive ta deceive me: Liz Swann herself. She made a full report, ta me and Mr. Gibbs, the evening before our scheduled rendezvous with yer fleet. By her calculation, theer was a higher probability one of us three would survive the battle, than that all of us would. An' she thought it fitting fer somebody amongst the livin' to know how James Norrington met his end. The authority-approved version's gonna be significantly different, I can tell you."
Theo braced himself. "Mr. Norrington never gave me any impression of being a coward."
"Because he most definitively weren't. 'Tis fer another reason that the facts'll be heavy edited. You know how these things are handled."
Groves did know. It was a given that the official account of Lord Cutler Beckett's demise would have no discernible resemblance to the reality. Even as they spoke, some hireling was probably scribbling out a sheetful of heroic lies.
The rum bottle dangled from Sparrow's fingertips, golden liquid sloshing sullenly. "Admiral James Lysander Norrington sacrificed his life most courageously. But not fer Crown an' Country. It was in the service of a more personal loyalty."
Lieutenant Groves made a well-educated guess. "Defending Miss Swann?"
"Aye. Maybe also in remembrance of her Da. As you probably know, Mr. Norrington held the late Governor in verra high regard. Not jus' out of duty, either. Liz informed me that, early into his tenure in Jamaica, then-Captain Norrington lost his own Da back in England. Seems he accepted the Gov as a sort of substitute."
Groves nodded confirmation. He'd been present when his Captain had received that terrible missive, informing him both his parents, and his younger sister, had been killed in a street accident. Though James had borne the news stoically, Groves could tell he was devastated. It was only natural that Wetherby Swann's subsequent consolations would be taken to heart.
"It was known throughout Fort Charles, that Norrington and the Governor had developed a high regard for each other during their mutual crossing from England. It was also widely supposed the Governor harbored hopes of someday becoming his father-in-law. He had no son of his own, and what man would not be proud to have one such as James?"
"I were rather rootin' fer that union meself. But Liz'd set her anchor solidly into the shipwrecked whelp they'd retrieved en route."
"I know all about that, sir." Groves supposed he could understand Miss Swann's infatuation with the blacksmith. William Turner had been her early-adolescent playmate, had demonstrated uncommon devotion to her, and was irrefutably handsome. But Groves would always resent the mendacious way Miss Swann dealt with the Commodore. That deception had wounded James more deeply than her rejection, and he'd done nothing to deserve either.
The pirate was speaking again. "Anyway, Liz told me that, even after her memorable declaration of preference fer Will Turner, Misters Swann and Norrington remained on friendly terms. The Gov even extended offers of aid after Norrington lost his Dauntless... though, bein' a proper idiotic English gentleman, Norrie had ta refuse. So it weren't a matter of indifference, when Liz informed James that Wetherby Swann had been murdered on Beckett's orders, if not by his actual hand."
Sparrow paused, eyes darkened by more than evening shadows. "Neither Lizzie nor meself believe this revelation was the one-an'-only factor ta motivate his reversing course. Norrington'd probably been accumulating misgivings about his superior fer some while. But indications are, that was the added cargo what tipped his keel."
Groves glanced down at his own hands, feeling ashamed. He'd heard whispered stories about the Governor's demise, which he'd dismissed simply because he didn't want to believe them. But James had never been one to hold his preferences in higher regard than the weight of evidence, even if that might force him to make some painful decisions. As apparently it had.
"So the Admiral turned against Beckett?"
"He did. Called it 'choosing a side.' He set Liz, and all the Empress' crew, free from the Dutchman's brig- led 'em to the lines connected to theer own towed ship. Liz, though she considered this gesture ta be somewhat overdue, invited James ta accompany them, for she knew the probable consequences if he stayed. Pigheaded knight James insisted on remainin' on the Dutchman, ta cover theer retreat. 'Twas well for Liz that he did, 'cause the breakout was discovered by a crewman who took very strong objection to it."
Sparrow paused again, looking haunted. Groves had already deduced the end to this tale. "Though 'twas from a distance, Liz is certain of what she saw. An' I'm inclined ta trust her eyesight. Said crewman, in a deranged fury, seized a wooden stave an' skewered Norrington fore to aft. I don't think theer's any appreciable chance he could've survived that."
Both men fell silent, thinking on the brave man they'd both come to admire. Ink-colored clouds streamed by, above the bellied black sails. Stretched rigging creaked, waves washed the length of the hull, the macaw shook out it's feathers.
Sparrow, eyeing the dark horizon as we would a trusted lover, began to sing. Not in the boisterous manner of his crew, but in a low, almost wistful tone:
"Farewell and adieu, to you Spanish Ladies,
Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain,
For we've received orders for to sail for old England
But we hope in a short time to see you again.
"And we'll rant and we'll roar, like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar all on the salt sea,
Until we strike soundings in the channel of England,
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues..."
Groves' curiosity got the better of him. "Pardon, sir, but where did you learn that?"
"A relative of mine composed the tune. The words are me own. 'Thought 'em up whilst traversing the Dover Strait, in my merchant-captain days. Don't look so incredulous, Mr. Groves. Theer's many a pirate who began his sailing career on the law-abiding side." His gaze took on a mournful cast. "Fer whatever reason, that ditty tends ta bring Mr. Norrington ta me mind."
"I don't imagine he'd object. I think he would've liked that song."
"Then I'll not take it amiss if you care ta sing it in his honor, when yer back amongst respectable folk." Jack resumed singing:
"We hove our ship to, with the wind from sou'west, boys,
We hove our ship to, deep soundings to take,
'Twas forty-five fathoms with a white sandy bottom,
So we squared our main yard and up channel did make."
Groves softly joined the chorus:
"And we'll rant and we'll roar, like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar all on the salt sea,
Until we strike soundings in the channel of England,
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty five leagues.
"The first land we sighted was call-ed the Dodman,
Next Ram Head off Plymouth, off Portsmouth the Wight,
We sailed up by Beachy, by Fairlight and Dover,
And then we bore up for the South Foreland light.
"Then the signal was made for the grand fleet to anchor,
And all in the Downs that night for to lie;
Let go your shank painter, let go your cat stopper,
Haul up your clewgarnets, let tacks and sheets fly!"
They sang the last part with fuller voices:
"Now let ev'ry man drink off his full bumper,
And let ev'ry man drink off his full glass;
We'll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy
And here's to the health of each true-hearted lass!
"And we'll rant and we'll roar, like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar all on the salt sea!
Until we strike soundings in the channel of England,
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty five leagues!"
At the close, Jack swung the bottle up- clearly a toast to an absent enemy- and drained the last contents. Behind them, the macaw solemnly squawked, "Of the sea, to the sea."
Groves resolved he would memorize that fine shanty, and pass it on. It would be an apt memorial to a valiant British officer, even if nobody knew what it was...
The peaceful interval ended as two familiar figures emerged from the hatchway. Murtogg and Mullroy- the latter carrying a steaming tankard- approached the quarterdeck stairs. "Pardon us, Cap'in Sparrow. Mr. Groves here ceded his grog ration to us, so we asked Mr. Le Blanc to prepare a beverage more to his liking," Murtogg explained.
A waft of steam blew to Groves' nostrils- it was tea. "Thank you. That was most considerate." But, waiting on the Captain's permission, Groves didn't reach for it yet.
Mullroy also sniffed appreciatively, "He did a proper job of it, too. Rather unexpected, what with him being Cajun."
"Oh, and no cook who's Cajun could possibly have ever learned to brew tea leaves. Is that what you're saying?" scoffed the other.
His companion frowned. "Just that, being French, one wouldn't think he'd have familiarity with English ways of food preparation, is all I'm saying..."
Sparrow cut in sternly. "Gents, I suspect Mr. Groves might prefer ta get his ration while it's still warm."
The two hastily handed over the tankard. Groves' first cautious sip revealed it to be of perfectly acceptable quality. "This is, indeed, proper tea. Please convey my complements to Mr. Le Blanc."
"Arrrr! We'll do that, matie!"
The pair retreated, though they only got as far as the ship's waist before resuming their noisy 'discussion'. The Lieutenant savored another swallow, as Sparrow remarked, "You should be aware, Mr. Groves, that you've been accorded a rare privilege. It hain't the norm for our volatile chef ta take special requests."
Theo bestowed a fond-annoyed glance on his former subordinates, now fully absorbed in their debate about tea and French cooks. "Le Blanc probably gave in just to get those two out of his kitchen."
"Probably." Jack leaned close enough for Groves to smell the rum on his breath. "To be honest, theer's moments I wonder whether delivering you inta their custody has actually spared you very much suffering."
"I'm not complaining, sir. They're no worse than... what's their names? Ragetti and Pintel."
"My point exactly! It's an open question whether my poor ship will survive havin' four such imbeciles aboard!"
Groves offered a sip of tea to Jack, who waved it away. "Never cared fer the stuff. Anyhow, 'tis too reminiscent of yer late unlamented employer."
Theo grimaced. "I hope I haven't learned any such association. The tea doesn't deserve it."
Sparrow looked sly. "I take it you don't hold Mr. Beckett in verra high esteem, either?"
Groves looked away, eyes smoldering. He knew damned well the Royal Navy wouldn't approve of his expressing contempt for a superior- however well deserved- in front of an enemy. But at this point he simply didn't care.
"Whatever regard I formerly held for the man perished in battle. Specifically: at that moment when this vessel, and the Dutchman, were bearing down on the Endeavour. Lord Beckett proved entirely incapable of dealing with that reversal of advantage. He simply froze, giving no order to fire, nor to abandon ship, showing no regard whatsoever for the welfare or dignity of the men. We might have at least gone down fighting- taken back something for what we lost!"
A bit belatedly, Groves realized it might be unwise to deplore the shortage of casualties among his listener's own crew. Fortunately, Sparrow was a fellow warrior who understood.
"Can't say I'm astonished. His Despicable Lordship never did cope well with bein' denied somethin' he wanted."
These words had an edge to them, reminding Groves of certain rumors... the ones regarding Beckett's intentions towards the famously comely buccaneer. Not that Theo had any interest in verifying them. True or not, the matter had been rendered entirely moot.
The Lieutenant carefully drained the rest of his tea. No, he certainly didn't want a beverage he'd always enjoyed to stir recollections of that most unworthy... person. He focused on the just-appeared evening star instead.
The two ex-marines, having exhausted the possibilities of their absurd verbal exercise, finally took note of how dark it was. Mullroy cleared his throat.
"Mr. Groves, as it's now well past sunset..."
"I know. Back to the brig." Theo set the tankard down and stood.
"It's fer yer own safety, as well as me ship," Sparrow reminded, not quite apologetically.
"Because, being a loyal servant of the King, I'm obliged to do whatever damage I can to an enemy vessel, given the chance. So you're denying me the chance. I remember how we subjected you to similar restrictions when you were a prisoner aboard the Dauntless," Groves replied.
Jack tilted his head. "Yer permitting me access to the decks was much appreciated, on that occasion."
"You have James Norrington's decency to thank for that."
"Then you owe him a similar debt, lad."
Murtogg, now flanking Theo's left side, looked mournful. "The Admiral was a gentleman through and through. His passing affected us greatly."
Groves started, only now recalling these two men had been under James' command aboard the Dutchman. "Did you witness this?"
"No sir. But Mr. Mercer made full report to the crew, about the Admiral's tragic accident," Mullroy answered in a matching tone.
Of course Beckett's clerk would have misinformed his underlings about the cause of death, least there be attempts at retaliation. Groves resolved he'd give them the true story, before this voyage was over. Though not right this minute. The solitude of the brig appealed to him now. He needed an interval to mourn one of the finest men he'd ever met, or was likely to.
At least he'd take some comfort from knowing someone else aboard shared a fragment of that regret. Groves turned a respectful look on Captain Sparrow, who was now staring pensively over the blackened ocean.
"You really are the best pirate I've ever seen, sir," Groves stated quietly.
The Captain may have smirked- it was hard to tell in this lighting. "Course I am, lad. Pleasant dreams ta you."
The three naval men disappeared below. Sparrow and Cotton exchanged a long look.
Jack lifted tankard and bottle, extended them over the rail, turned them over. The last few drops of rum and tea splashed out, mingling in midair.
The sea accepted them both.
The first set of lyrics is my own re-working of the traditional folksong 'Yarmouth Town', by the prolific Anon.
The lyrics to 'Spanish Ladies' are in the public domain. According to The Oxford Book of Sea Songs, the earliest known reference to this popular shanty is a 1796 entry in the logbook of the Nellie. The composer is unknown. Teague's strumming of the tune during the Brethren Court meeting may be as reliable a clue to it's origins as any.