Apprenticed to a Pirate

The woman must be into her late twenties or early thirties, he is sure, only about five or six years older than him he'd say. She is pretty enough, aging early by the look of it, but her hair glints gold where the sun lances under her bonnet and her eyes are the blue of winter seas. How unusual for a woman of her station – and yes, he may have left school at sixteen, and it was eleven years since, but he knows a governess when he sees one – to be seeking them out.

"Miss Ruth, was it?"

She sniffs primly, looking haughtily down her nose at his ship. "Ruth Sebastien, Mister…"

"Call me the Pirate King," he smiles charmingly, "Ruth."

Oh, she has fire in her eyes at that little liberty. "Miss Sebastien, if you don't mind, Mr King." That was a very deliberate slight delivered to make him think her nothing but ditsy, he knows, but he allows it. This prettyish woman has piqued his curiosity with her bright hair and stern eyes.

"I have a proposition for you."

"Well, in that case," he leers at her, dramatically sliding down the first steps to his cabin, showing off the strength in his muscles, "You better come inside." What could such a woman want with a piratical captain? Surely she cannot know his face or even his background, for his father was rich but not famous and his mother beautiful but not well-blooded.

Icy eyes narrow, lines creasing about her brows. Hers is a face that worries a lot. "Not that sort. I have a boy in my care who needs an apprenticeship. He is eight years old, and the sweetest and gentlest of all boys," she informs him, eyeing him fiercely when he step ups into her space, peering down at her. Truthful, if out of her depth.

"We don't take apprentices," he snaps, flipping up onto the beam behind him, wrapping a grounding rope about his wrist. What would he do with a boy? This is a boat for those who have no other place to be, liminal space, temporary measures against loneliness and bankruptcy courts; it isn't like he could offer the boy a bright future. For Victoria's sake, he's barely keeping the crew out of gaol as it is – and he has most of a doctorate, alright, he's good at finding the necessary pennies, but to add a child? The sea glints below, the open horizon beckons. Port feels claustrophobic.

She sighs, ignoring his nervous athletics. "I suppose I'll have to visit the constabulary, then," she says to the rigging with an exaggerated sigh, "Someone else will take Frederic and I in, I am sure, for an annual in of thirty pounds a year."

If he could make the sound of a violin's screech, he would. Twisting his boot into the rigging he lets the world pull him down, like falling water, so he is on head-level, back curved like a stretching housecat to let his head cock at an angle to meet her bright eyes. "Let us not be hasty," he purrs, thirty pounds per annum ringing through him like a siren's song, "I'm certain we can arrive at some mutually beneficial arrangement."

Another prim, self-satisfied smile. "I shall bring him in three days, with thirty pounds. Our money can be collected from the bank on the last of February every year."

"Excellent," drawls the newly invigorated captain, showing all his teeth and relishing her half-flinch. Perhaps an apprentice-boy won't be such a terrible idea after all. After all, he's at the age when he should have a few young children pestering him for money and attention and asking endless interminable questions. Funny, he muses, back in his favourite place on the crossbeam where the sea and the port stretch under him like the earthly kingdom of some ancient god, but the idea doesn't horrify him how it maybe should. Oh dear Lord in Heaven, he's going to have to child-proof the ship, and what if he has to change his style of dress? How old are children when they stop grabbing at earrings and loose necklines, and his hair-tie flaps around with his every move, and how will the boy get educated? Actually, they can probably handle that as a group. He shuffles about, the hard beam numbing his leg a little, considering how life is about to change with the advent of this little Frederic.

Oh, no. Puberty. Damn his kind soul and the money Ruth Sebastian offered him. Having the out-of-school 17 year olds is bad enough.

He's going to have to work out a curriculum.

"Why," he asks the wind, "Why do I do this to myself," and falls backwards over the beam, soaring like flight down down down towards the brown deck, catching himself at the very last moment on one of his loose ropes hanging for this very purpose, swinging over the water. Samuel shakes his head at his antics, but Samuel does not know how it is to fly. Frederic can learn this, he decides, eight is a good time to start – right? Coll, on deck duty until moonrise, pats his shoulder in commiseration when he slumps over the rail, chin pillowed on his forearm. Every hour that passes, the horizon calls him louder – and now, he must wait; he gave his word, did he not?

Interminable. There is only so much he will allow his crew, only so many ways to rouse spirits without his men (boys, some of them) landing in the cells overnight or at the mercy of some girl's father's sword. Mind, that said…surely he can sneak off and find himself some lonely pretty young thing to – not debauch, no, that isn't what he wants tonight. Companionship, someone to tell him taking in this boy is not the worst idea he's ever had and mean it, some soft girl to awe at his stories. A boy – maybe he should find a woman to debauch. Who knows when he'll next have the opportunity. Thirteen years is a long time – but maybe it'll only be nine or so, seventeen is old enough, yes? Slumped on the deck of his trim ship, the years stretch before him shimmering and moving and long, so long.


This is heavily inspired by the 1983 film of The Pirates of Penzance, featuring Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, Angela Lansbury as Ruth, and Rex Smith as Frederic. The surnames are made up, as are several of the other details. All our love and gratitude goes, of course, to the fabulous Gilbert and Sullivan for writing the operetta in the first place.