An effort to continue the Sam and Richie saga. I still intend to write a lot more of this, but it's a case of finding the time and the enthusiasm and the willpower to sit and write steadily in a room full of screaming and arguing sisters.
Title: Er ... none actually.
Summary: Sam and Richie go to a posh ball. That's about it so far.
Length: 2,519 words, not complete.
Although he was no expert on social etiquette, Sam Sweeny was well aware that there were certain groups of people you just didn’t try to mix together at one party. These included courtesans and the clergy, polar bears and penguins, and aristocrats and pirates. In fact, any of the above and pirates was a spectacularly bad mix, which Sam should have known having spent the previous six years on a ship full of them. He was an expert on pirates without actually being one, which was not only rare but quite dangerous; pirates were a secretive sort and objected to outsiders muscling in on their territory, but Sam held a special status in the eyes of these particular pirates which went something like this – the captain likes him so we tolerate him or find all our inside bits suddenly, and quite painfully, on the outside. A few of the smarter pirates (for example the ones who could remember their own names and where they were simultaneously) realised that Sam had become vital to the working of the ship, or at least to making it look nice and smell less like a skunk’s cesspit in high summer. As adopted son, brother, father and speculated niece of Captain Richard Moon, Sam was emotionally crucial. Since for most of the crew emotions were something that happened to sissy girls and people with an IQ higher than that of a molehill, this went completely unappreciated, but Richie looked to Sam for encouragement and support, the latter especially after several kegs of rum. Sam, in return, relied on Richie as someone to hide behind when things started to get violent. He had found himself totally in awe of the seven-foot tall killing machine who spent his evenings slurping strong alcohol through a stripy straw and gradually ploughing his way through “Spot Goes For A Walk”.
Richie himself was a highly complicated character, a fact which eluded most people upon meeting him. He was extremely large and spoke with a thick Irish accent, and his lips moved when he read or thought or – Sam was startled to discover once when Richie fell asleep at the helm – when he dreamed. Richie did not strike people as intelligent, but then, he really wasn’t. Sam frequently found himself arguing in Richie’s defence that it didn’t mean he was simple. Richie’s mind was slow, but it was powerful, like continental drift or a steamroller in first gear, and it shaped the world he lived in to a worrying degree. The laws of nature, causality and reason had given up hope and filed the document marked “Richie” in a lead-lined urn buried underneath a large rock in a nuclear waste dumping site, leaving only gravity to keep him in check. If Richie was convinced enough that something was so, then so it was. They may have raided a village and taken three hostages, but if Richie was mistaken and swore there were five, the next time you checked there would be an extra two from somewhere. No one had even figured out who they were. On top of this – and most significant and worrying, some would suggest – was the fact that Richie and his crew were all between three and four hundred years old. It had simply never occurred to their captain that they should age, so they didn’t. If Richie happened to forget they were vulnerable to harm, they would soon find themselves invincible until he remembered again. This only served to make the crew more vicious and bloodthirsty than before, but it also meant they had a lot of free time on their hands so some of them had taken up crochet, which rather spoiled the hell-bent marauder image.
Sam, who was now in his mid-twenties but still looked nineteen and a half, had found himself torn when his parents wrote him a letter begging him to come home to them. The letter was delivered by Richie’s parrot, which was a conundrum in itself because Richie’s parrot was actually the ferret, Gulerod, incapable of flight and pretty much every other biological function bar digestion, but Sam was willing to overlook that because he recognised his father’s seal (a declaration which had to be explained at length to Richie, to whom a seal represented a month and a half’s worth of meat and not, in fact, a means of identification). Sam’s father had been extremely ill and feared his only son to be lost at sea. Loathing the thought of dividing his immense wealth between his six daughters, even obedient ones who married jockeys instead of gallivanting off to sea with a bunch of unsavoury characters in a boat held together by some Sellotape but mostly willpower, he had sent various people out to find his son before he died. Having finally tracked Sam down, Mr Sweeny Senior had insisted that his son at least come back to attend a ball in his honour.
But Sam knew what would happen; he would end up staying. For the past half-dozen years he had been, in turns, desperate to return to land and terrified of losing his newfound freedom. He was worried that, when faced with the decision, he would be stupid enough to sacrifice that freedom for floors which you could put things on without them instantly sliding away from you, and food that didn’t scream when you bit into it. In a bout of extreme foolishness he had invited the pirates to join him – after all, it was a ball in his honour, so he should be allowed to invite whoever he liked – to remind him what he would be missing if he stayed at home.
Finally the day had come, and the ship was coasting towards the English shore on a stiff breeze from some direction or another. Harvey “Two Eye Patches Are Better Than One” Peters was in his crow’s nest, trying to peer at the horizon through an empty beer bottle, and the rest of the crew milled around on deck, occasionally doing useful things but mostly not. Sam strode up and down the captain’s quarters, biting his nails and uttering senseless things like “what if there’s caviar? And the shoes, I’d better warn them about the shoes”. He had ordered fine gentlemen’s clothing for the half-dozen pirates brave enough to accompany him onto dry land; Richie himself, Harvey Peters, Clive “The Snake” Jones, Brackish, Philip Trent (first mate and barman) and Jim, still affectionately known as The New Kid. Only Jim had remained silent and unresisting, but Richie was soon won over to the idea of masquerading as a “posh nob” as he persisted on putting it. He vaguely intended to find some way of making money out of this, but in fact he was won over by curiosity and a desire to see how the other side really lived. Were the rumours of mattresses true? Could you really eat with silver knives? And what exactly was this mysterious substance he had heard rumours about called “carpet”?
Jim lounged idly on a couch as Sam fretted and Richie got changed. He had so far been gone for half an hour, but insisted that he was doing fine and didn’t need any help, thank you very much. Jim had already tried and approved of his vivid green outfit. Sam was decked out in blue, and trying to keep his distance so they didn’t clash horrifically.
After Richie adopted Jim, the ex-banker, into the crew on the grounds of him having more guts than any of them for going around pissing off pirates for a living, Sam had meekly kept himself out of the way for some time, feeling inexplicably guilty for accusing Jim of all the things he had actually done. He had the vague feeling that his accusations and hostility had outlasted any bad feeling between Jim and the Captain, so Sam resigned himself to position of Public Enemy and hid. Only after Jim underwent a sort of nervous breakdown at the hands of the other pirates did Sam realise that small, weak, poofly crew members really did have to stick together. Jim’s talents lay in stock control and strategy, but he had been practicing his blood-curdling screams and was coming along quite well. Soon, Richie said, he might even be allowed an eye patch, despite Jim’s protestations that he had two perfectly good eyes and didn’t in fact want one. Sam was vaguely peeved because he had never been offered an eye patch. When the subject was brought up Richie explained, with the subtlety of a barge, that technically Sam was still a stowaway and not a pirate in any way, shape or form.
Jim also had an idea what good manners were and, although he wasn’t from the sort of high class family Sam was, he had agreed to help teach the pirates some etiquette in preparation for their appearance at the ball. And now, their hands in their pockets and feet scuffing the deck, Peters, Snake, Brackish and Trent filed into the Captain’s cabin. Sam gave them an appraising look; Jim cringed slightly.
“Today is the day, men!” said Sam, grinning nervously. “Do you remember everything we taught you?”
The pirates shook their heads.
“I have a question,” said Snake slowly. “I can’t remember the difference between a fork and a Forlí.”
“Eh? One’s an eating utensil and the other’s a city in northern Italy!”
Brackish nodded. “We’ve been to Fork, remember?”
“No! It’s … oh never mind. Everyone will be too polite to comment if you eat your dinner with an ancient Roman trading station. Just forget it. Now. How do we go about drinking our wine?”
There was a pause.
“Carefully,” said Peters. Sam beamed.
“Very carefully. Little sips. What do we not do with it?”
“Spit it at people,” said Trent, looking pleased with himself for spotting this.
“Throw bottles at each other.”
“Replace it with wood varnish.”
Sam nodded. “Good. Okay. So, how do we go about addressing people?”
The pirates gave him a blank look.
“Write clearly and don’t forget the postcode?” said Brackish tentatively.
“No! I mean in conversation. Perhaps I’m talking to, um, the Earl of Essex. How do I address an Earl?”
Sam conceded that this would pass.
“How about a Duke?”
“ … As long as you make it sound respectful, I suppose. One more. What about a lady?”
The pirates stared at him, wide-eyed. Sam could feel the nervous twitch returning in his left eye.
“There’s going to be wimmin there?” asked Peters, in the disbelieving tone of he who has just seen irrefutable evidence that there’s a paradise.
“Ladies,” said Sam quickly. “Girls of high breeding and good taste,” he added, putting unmistakable emphasis on the last two words while at the same time giving Peters a distasteful look. The Lookout’s hopeful grin remained in place.
“Right,” said Sam, suddenly desperate to get out into the fresh air, “someone please grab Richie and let’s get going.”
Lady Charity Darlington of Kent was on tenterhooks. She was also in her best party dress, which was large and green and sparkly except for the part just above the left sleeve which had been slowly corroding since the large black-and-white ferret widdled on it, but she didn’t appear to have noticed. Gul had arrived at the house earlier that morning and made a bee-line for Charity, much to the relief of the rest of the guests. The party was still in the preparatory stages, which meant a lot of disorganised people were running around under the command of two organised people who, nevertheless, were so single-minded they didn’t have a clue what the other was doing. This is a vital stage for all good parties, and must put the hosts in a state of panic so that when the guests arrive they have passed through nervous and are now drifting around on the calm, institution- blue far side where all the jokes your guests make are actually funny.
Someone above Lady Charity’s head was putting up bunting while another person was insisting they had been clearly instructed to make sure the same bunting went up somewhere else. Both had been threatened with extreme action if the task wasn’t completed satisfactorily. Another pair of people were arguing over the arrangement of some little bowls of nuts, and a similar pair were rowing about the decoration around the bandstand out in the garden. This, conceded Lady Charity with a nod of relief, was a good thing. It meant both Lord and Lady Sweeny were keeping themselves occupied somewhere, probably with screaming furiously at each other but, essentially, occupied is occupied and that meant Charity would be able to greet Sam before them.
Like many upper-class couples, Lord and Lady Sweeny had a hoard of children and grandchildren yet still managed to detest each other. They spent about thirty minutes of the day in each other’s company and slept in separate wings of the house if they couldn’t manage to actually avoid being in the same property at all. Her ladyship was usually in charge of things in the country house, but since this was where the party was, his lordship had muscled in and started giving orders out too, trying to get things the way he wanted them. Her ladyship didn’t seem to mind this as such; it was his attempts to put things back as he wanted them after she had put them right which she resented.
It was, her ladyship had told Charity one afternoon as they walked through the extensive gardens, the perfect marriage. The thought had left Charity in a state of abject despair for weeks.
She had never wanted to marry a jockey, which was only one of the many things she had in common with Sam. Okay, so her many brief suitors hadn’t all been jockeys but it was a generic enough upper-class-male job for all of them to fall somehow under that description. A large percentage of them had been bankers and a lot of them did nothing at all except eat expensive meals and shoot things in woods, but all of them were vaguely Lord Sweeny-like and none of them appealed to her in the least. The only male she had ever felt happy in the company of was Sam, and that was stretching the word ‘male’ to dangerous new limits. Sam she could respect because he had vision. He had spent his childhood dreaming of doing things they both knew he would never be capable of; exploring jungles, climbing mountains, discovering ancient ruins, fighting pirates off the Spanish Main … And she had played along as a sort of accessory, dressing up in green curtains and pretending to be monsters for him to slay. She had encouraged him, dreamed with him, told him it could be done, that he could some day go and have amazing adventures. And then, when he finally did, she resented him for it because she was left behind.
Six years on, she owed him a good thumping...