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The Pirates! in an Adventure with Bubbles

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The Pirate Who Loved Ham couldn't help grinning from ear to ear - The Boy with the Scarf knew everything! Everything about ships and laws and even the words to naughty songs!

"Will your mum let you come over for tea?" he asked, excited at the prospect of getting to play Captain with a real live First Mate.

But The Boy with the Scarf's face fell then, though he snuffled into his scarf to hide his trembling mouth.

"Got no Mum no more," The Pirate Who Loved Ham thought he heard. It was as if the scarf had said it, which would have been extraordinary all on its own, but he couldn't get past the sadness in The Boy with the Scarf's voice. It was clear that The Boy with the Scarf was upset and that this wasn't a case where the mum had forgotten where she lived and where her boy would have been waiting for her. This would have to be handled with the utmost delicacy – The Pirate Who Loved Ham thought that's how his dad would put it, since Dad had, Mum said, a fine turn of phrase.

"My mum'd love to have you for tea!" The Pirate Who Loved Ham said encouragingly, startled by The Boy with the Scarf's big eyes going even wider. He thought back to what he'd said and corrected himself immediately, though part of him wished it were true. "My mum's not a cannibal, of course. Don't think there are many in our village. But you could come have tea with us!" He held out his hand and The Boy with the Scarf reached out his cold one and took it. Too skinny, that's what Mum would say. Needed to be fed up until at least one button was in danger of popping clean off.

Well, those skinny legs were good for running, he'd say that much. And that long nose was good for sniffing out food.

"Is that fried fish?" The Boy with the Scarf asked, sounding rather delighted.

"My dad caught it and my mum cooked it," The Pirate Who Loved Ham boasted, which didn't count as a sin, because being prideful about other people was fine, as far as he could work out.

His very own plate was waiting for him, a great slab of fried fish covering the ship that was painted on the bottom. The fish was just cool enough to be picked up, so he took hold of one end and waited until The Boy with the Scarf took the other to pull. It didn't crack neatly down the middle or even to one side like a wishbone, but they tugged it apart and were giggling as they gobbled it down, both of them with faces shining from the grease.

"Look at you!" Mum said when she came in, clapping dust off her hands. "You'll need a bath again, and - oh!"

He saw her eyes go round at the sight of The Boy with the Scarf, who'd used the ends of his scarf to wipe his face mostly clean, and her hand twitched in the direction of the laundry, where she'd stashed the Urchin-Be-Gone. The Pirate Who Loved Ham stepped back so The Boy with the Scarf couldn't see and shook his head as forcefully as he dared. Mum's eyes narrowed then, and suddenly she smiled heartily at The Boy with the Scarf.

"I'll just fetch the water for that bath," she said. "I should be making the pair of you get it, but I've no doubt the buckets would slide out of those greasy hands in the blink of an eye."

She shut the door gently behind her, and when he turned to reassure The Boy with the Scarf that everything was all right, The Boy with the Scarf had a look on his face that was awfully familiar, though he couldn't quite recognise it. Surely it couldn't be hunger - Mum always made his tea big enough for three boys his size. Not thirst either, because that was what he was feeling, and he knew his face wasn't doing anything like what The Boy with the Scarf's was. Ah, it was the look Dad wore when Mum was singing and shaking her hips just a bit, like she couldn't help it. The Boy with the Scarf was in love with Mum. He didn't mind; he was willing to share.

"What's all this?" Dad's voice boomed out and The Pirate Who Loved Ham gulped, remembering that it was Dad who was going to have to share if The Boy with the Scarf was allowed to stay.

"Pair of rogues in desperate need of a bath," Mum said as she sneaked kisses against his beard.

"Pair?" Dad asked, starting to pull back, before apparently deciding he didn't care enough about investigating to stop kissing Mum. "Have them walk the plank into the tub, then!"

"Pirates don't walk the plank, Dad!" The Pirate Who Loved Ham protested even as one of Dad's big hands lifted him clean off his feet.

"Shiver me timbers, there's nothing to this one!" Dad roared, and then The Pirate Who Loved Ham saw The Boy with the Scarf dangling like a bit of string from Dad's other hand. "He needs feeding more than bathing!"

"Thank you, sir," The Boy with the Scarf piped up, hanging obediently still as Dad brought him closer for inspection.

"Have you a name, boy?" Dad asked.

"Dad!" The Pirate Who Loved Ham protested. "He's my Number Two!" Surely that was obvious? Every Pirate Captain needed a stout First Mate to lead the shanties and glaze the pig for Ham Night and cut the planks that prisoners would walk!

Dad just laughed, his belly shaking in that way that always set everyone else laughing, and before The Pirate Who Loved Ham knew it, he and The Boy with the Scarf had both been stripped and dumped in the bath. The little wooden boat he'd carved bobbed valiantly between them. Without his cap, The Boy with the Scarf - he was still wearing his scarf for some reason - had hair that was a sort of mouse-brown, and without his clothes he was very skinny indeed. A First Mate who looked like he'd be blown away by the first gale was no good.

"It's no good, Number Two," The Pirate Who Loved Ham said solemnly. "You will just have to stay and eat hearty until you can stand on deck in all manner of weather."

The Boy with the Scarf was scrubbing diligently at the ends of his scarf, but he could see the small smile lurking on that mouth. "What does 'Number Two' mean?"

"You'll be my First Mate when I am . . . The Pirate Captain!"

"But not just yet?" The Boy with the Scarf asked.

"It takes years of practice," The Pirate Who Loved Ham assured him. "I've been practicing forever and I still don't know everything about pirating!"

"The first rule is that all pirate captains must have a beard," The Boy with the Scarf pronounced gravely.

"Is it?" The Pirate Who Loved Ham asked, stricken. He rubbed his chin with one soapy hand. Nothing had grown there for as long as he could remember, though he supposed it was possible that Mum shaved him while he slept.

"I believe I have a solution, sir," The Boy with the Scarf said, gathering up the soap bubbles with careful hands. They tickled as they winked and popped against his skin, but he held still and let The Boy with the Scarf work. When The Boy with the Scarf at last dropped his hands, The Pirate Who Loved Ham leaned in to see his reflection in The Boy with the Scarf's eyes. A luxuriant beard, white as snow, jutted out magnificently from his chin.

"Fantastic!" he gasped, delighted. "Do you know everything, Number Two?"

"That's what First Mates are for," The Pirate with the Scarf said, smiling back as he picked up the soap.