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The 66th Annual Revenge Song Contest

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“Right, chaps,” Stede said, striding out onto the deck, resplendent in a frock coat of moss green brocade. It seemed particularly important to dress well now that Blackbeard was on board. But just as important was to appear confident and captainly, and he knew just the thing. “Now I think we all noticed that it got a little windy last night, and that mainsail could use a bit of attention - couldn’t it? Now, as we all know, that’s the kind of job that requires coordination. That requires us working in unison! And aboard a boat like this there’s only one thing that keeps us all working together as one -”

“Not fucking Wellerman again,” Wee John broke in. 

“If I hear that song one more time…” said Roach.

The rest of the crew were nodding in agreement. Blackbeard sat back a little, staying out of it.

“Really? You don’t like it?” Stede asked. “Not even the bit that goes, you know, tum-te-tum sugar and tea and rum?” He absentmindedly conducted an invisible choir as he spoke. 

“No one ever comes in at the right time on the chorus,” said Black Pete. 

“You have to admit it’s overplayed,” Lucius added. 

More murmurs of agreement. 

Stede was beginning to look a little upset. “I thought you liked sea shanties. That’s what being a pirate’s about, isn’t it, singing a nice song with your friends?”

Oluwande took pity on him. “We do like sea shanties - don’t we?” He looked around. “Don’t we?”


“We do, aye.”

“Love a good sea shanty.”

Stede brightened a little.

“We’ve maybe just sung Wellerman one too many times,” Oluwande concluded. 

“Well,” Stede said. “Perhaps that silly old sail will stay where it is for a little while longer. After all, we’re always saying that what’s really needed is for everyone to have a creative outlet. So, if we’re all fed up of singing the same old shanties, how about we all sit down and we have a go at each writing a new shanty? Then we can choose our favourite and we can all sing that while we’re fixing the sail.”

“How are we going to do that, then?” Roach asked. “Lucius is the only one who knows how to write.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Stede said, undaunted, “but maybe the rest of you can use little pictures to note down your lyrics, as a sort of aide-memoire, and then Lucius can write up the lyrics properly. We’ll call it… the Revenge Song Context. The Annual Revenge Song Contest. The 66th Annual Revenge Song Contest.”

“Why 66th?” Wee John asked.

“Sounds better that way,” Stede replied. “Gives it a bit of gravitas.”

There was further muttering amongst the crew.

“I need to start on lunch,” Roach said, and dashed off to the kitchen.

“Aye, and someone has to steer the ship,” Buttons said. “I’ll volunteer for that.” He sloped off to the wheel. 

Stede looked at his dwindling crew. 

“You haven’t said much yet, Ed,” he said hesitantly. “Will you join our song contest?”

Blackbeard’s face had mostly been hidden behind his hair, but now he looked up, and Stede saw that he was beaming. “I’d love to,” he said.

“Very good!” Stede replied. “Let’s get started!”

Despite an initial lack of enthusiasm, Stede thought that the crew were getting into the swing of things, shanty-writing-wise. There had only been a minor fist-fight and that was when they had briefly paused for elevenses. Buttons had come over and fussed about the sail some more, but Stede had reassured him that once they had the shanty sorted, he’d get the crew right on it.

Now Black Pete was eagerly scribbling away, and Frenchie was strumming away on his guitar to help the Swede work out a tune. Blackbeard had covered a page or two in notes as well, and the rest of the crew enjoyed seeing him get so involved. 

It was exactly the kind of idyllic scene that Stede had always imagined when he had daydreamed about a life of piracy. 

After a reasonable amount of progress had been made, Stede called them all back together again. “Does anyone have a shanty they’d like to share?”

The crew looked away. Lucius inspected his nails.

“I’ll get us started then,” Stede said, enthusiasm undimmed. 

Here we are on the Revenge,
The best pirate ship by far,
It’s full of laughs and full of fun,
And here’s who we all are…

“There’s Wee John, who’s rather big,
There’s Black Pete, who’s white,
There’s Jim, who with their knife in hand,
Can put up quite a fight!"

Oluwande looked out over the sea towards St. Augustine with a sigh.

That’s who we are, we are, we are,
A pirate’s life for me!
That’s who we are, we are, we are,
We’re friends who live at sea.

“There’s Buttons, the finest of first mates
There’s Lucius with his pen,
There’s Oluwande who’s everyone’s friend
And the Swede who’s from Sweden.

“That doesn’t really rhyme, does it?” Lucius murmured to Frenchie.

“Shh, I want to know what he says about me,” Frenchie replied.

There’s Frenchie who sings a merry song,
There’s Roach who keeps us fed,
Then there are the captains twain,
There’s me, and then there’s Ed.

That’s who we are, we are, we are,
A pirate’s life for me!
That’s who we are, we are, we are,
We’re friends who live at sea.

The crew applauded politely for the most part - except Blackbeard, who whooped and wolf-whistled. Stede tried to adopt a modest expression, but he couldn’t hide a blush. “Did you all like the pun?” he asked.

“What pun?” Black Pete replied.

“We are,” Stede said. “Like, we arrr. It’s a pirate pun.”

Wee John frowned. “You don’t really say ‘we arrrr’, though, do you? You say it like ‘we ahhh’. ‘That’s who we ahhh, we ahhh, we ahhh…’”

“I thought it was a very good pun,” Blackbeard said, and that ended the discussion.

They were briefly interrupted by Buttons, who was still quite hung up about the condition of the sail.

“That’ll be the very next thing we do,” Stede reassured him. “Anyone else want to share their sea shanty? Black Pete, you seem to have quite a lot noted down - though that looks, ah, rather graphic. Is that your sea shanty?”

“That’s right, boss,” Black Pete said. “It’s a variation on a traditional tune. Frenchie, an E-minor please.

What shall we do with the handsome pirate,
What shall we do with the handsome pirate,
What shall we do with the handsome pirate,
Early in the morning?

“Suck on his cock til he comes on my face,
Suck on his cock til he comes on my face,
Suck on his cock til he comes on my face,
Early in the morning.”

“I see,” Stede said, flustered. But the rest of the crew were beginning to sing along. The Swede had repurposed a couple of nearby casks of rum as makeshift drums. 

“Everyone wants a sexy pirate
Wearing myself out with a sexy pirate
Come to my hammock you sexy pirate
Early in the morning.”

Black Pete was now making deliberate eye contact with Lucius as he sang. Lucius had abandoned all pretence of noting down the lyrics. 

“Goodness,” Stede said, sounding a little shaken. “Well, this has been very nice. Does anyone else…?”

But Black Pete went into another chorus.

What shall we do with the handsome pirate,
What shall we do with the handsome pirate,
What shall we do with the handsome pirate,
Early in the morning?

“Fuck him up the arse til he walks bow-legged,
Fuck him up the arse til he walks bow-legged,
Fuck him up the arse til he walks bow-legged,
Early in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Stede said, clapping enthusiastically, and Black Pete reluctantly brought the song to an end.

“There are another ten verses if you’d like,” he said.

“Maybe we should give some of the other pirates a chance to sing as well,” Stede said, in what he believed to be his most diplomatic tone of voice.

Black Pete sat down, and Lucius whispered something in his ear that made both of them grin. 

“I can go next,” the Swede said, and in his high, fluting voice, sang,

Kärleken är inte främmande för oss
Du vet om reglerna, och det gör jag med
Ett helt anförtroende är det jag tänker på
Det skulle du aldrig få av en annan kille
Jag vill bara berätta för dig hur jag känner mig
Måste få dig att förstå.

“Jag ska aldrig förråda dig
Jag ska aldrig svika dig
Jag ska aldrig springa runt och överge dig
Jag ska aldrig få dig att gråta
Jag ska aldrig ta farväl
Jag ska aldrig ljuga och såra dig…”

“Thank you,” Stede said, clapping again and looking a little pained. “This is supposed to be a sea shanty competition, though, not some kind of European contest where we all sing in different languages…”

“That’s very Anglocentric of you,” Black Pete said. The rest of the crew murmured their assent. 

“I was going to sing in Irish,” Wee John said.

“Captain,” Buttons said, coming over from the wheel again, “the mainsail -”

“Does anyone have a song in English to share?” Stede asked. Sometimes a bit of authority was all that was needed.

“I do!” Frenchie said, which quietened the growing unrest among the crew. Buttons huffed away again as Frenchie began to sing:

It spreads its litter in your bed,
It puts its parasites in your head,
You should have got a dog instead
Of the furry fiend that wants you dead -

“That’s not exactly a sea shanty, is it?” Lucius said. “Don’t sea shanties have to be about the sea?”

“As if you’ve done any better,” Frenchie replied.

“I’ve been helping Ed,” Lucius said with all the dignity a shanty-less man could muster. 

“Ed,” Stede said, turning towards him like a flower to the sun. “Do you have a sea shanty to share with us?”

Blackbeard clutched his sheaf of scribbled-on paper awkwardly. “I’m not sure it’s very good,” he said.

“Perhaps we can be the judge of that,” Stede replied, and gave him an encouraging smile. 

“All right,” Blackbeard said, and very quietly, began:

I wandered out upon the deck
The moon was a button in the velvet sea
I thought about the finer things
And everything you meant to me.”

“Go on,” Stede said as Blackbeard paused.

“I’m not sure it’s got enough of a rhythm for a shanty,” Frenchie said.

Lucius shushed him furiously. 

Blackbeard continued:

“The breeze was silk upon my face
The sky was satin up above,
The timbers creaked like coming home
And I thought that I might be -

Stede was watching him keenly. Blackbeard seemed to be singing almost to himself, as if unaware that anyone else was there. 

And if the rest of the crew was focused quite intently on their two captains, and Blackbeard’s song…

Well. Perhaps it was unsurprising that no one had noticed the mainsail beginning its rapid descent towards the deck. 

“Oh fuck!” Blackbeard said.


A while later, the mainsail back in place, Stede was in his cabin with a cup of cocoa, his slippers and Lucius taking notes on his thoughts about the day.

Today, those thoughts were not particularly edifying.

“There’s just not that much that rhymes with ‘above’, is there?” Stede asked. 

“No, there isn’t,” Lucius replied, with some semblance of patience. 

“Glove… foxglove… dove… enough, if you say it funny, I suppose. I thought that I might be enough. That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Through the walls came the sound of Black Pete reaching the sixth or seventh verse of What Shall We Do With the Handsome Pirate. Lucius found himself eagerly looking forward to early in the morning.

“I think he’s more than enough,” Stede mused. “More than enough.”

Up on deck, Blackbeard gazed wistfully at the velvet sea.