Foreword: This story is about the world and some of the characters from the book John Sharpe: No. 1,348 but it in no away affects or is affected by reading said book and is set many years before the book.
A long time ago, in a land far away, there was an almost handsome young man named Jack McCavity. The land, of course, was Underworld, the world that sits under our own and that is populated by Underlings: people much like ourselves but with stronger stomachs, weaker olfaction, and the ability to do magic. This story, as I’m sure you understand, takes place before Queenie became Queen and before McCavity developed the massive paunch that we all know and love. This story takes place long before the now famous royal son saga, and before those particular John Sharpes with whom we are now well acquainted were even a twinkle in their mothers’ eyes[*]. In fact, it takes place even before their mothers were twinkles in their mothers’ eyes and so on like that for many generations. So yes, it takes place quite a while ago.
The young McCavity, who was yet to fatten his cheeks and his thighs, stood on the beige, chalky street in front of The City Palace. He was dressed rather plain, in a simple t-shirt and jeans for naturally, he doesn’t develop his penchant of top hat and tails until much later in his life. At 49 years old, he was a humble boy from the stinkiest region of The City (for you remember, of course, that Underlings age much slower than us poor homo-sapiens).
His hands held a ukulele whilst his face held a smile and his eyes held the look of love, for tonight he was going to declare his feelings to Queenie, the young princess of Underworld. Had he known what the future held, he may have thought twice about this act – or perhaps not, for Queenie and McCavity are soul mates (if such a thing exists) and he would love her no matter what heinous act she decided to commit next (and of course, many such acts she does commit). He began to strum at his strings and sing.
“You are lovely and beautiful and rather divine.” He was a terrible song writer and an even worse singer. He repeated the same melody for each and every line, a bit like when psalms are read in church, if you can imagine that.
“Your face is delightful and I want it to kiss mine.” He tottered on his feet and blinked quickly with nerves. With each line of the song, his voice got a little higher, his face got a little redder as he forgot to breathe, and his cheeks got a little fatter as his smile broadened with excitement. By the third line of his terrible song, his voice was barely a squeak and a rasp.
“I love you and…” he gasped for air, “…and I think you’re divine.”
“You’ve already said ‘divine’ once, you dimwit,” Queenie hollered. She was sat by the open window (although out of sight, of course, for she couldn’t go letting McCavity thinking she was interested). McCavity was glad that his face was already red from lack of oxygen so that she didn’t see him blush in embarrassment. He knew that intelligence wasn’t his best area of expertise.
“Oh dear, so I have,” he replied, his eyes darting around the floor as though he might find some better lyrics lying around somewhere. “How about…I love you, I wuv you, I want you to be mine?” His voice and pitch had returned to normal, since he’d had a chance to catch a breath.
“Better,” Queenie bellowed from her chair behind the blustery curtain of her room. “It’s still quite rubbish of course, but you may continue.”
“No you bloody well can’t!” Both McCavity and Queenie jumped at the voice, and McCavity’s eyes darted to the upmost window of the palace (you know the one, it’s got that fancy balcony that sticks out only 4 inches as the streets are simply too narrow for it to stick out like any normal balcony would). Upon the tiny balcony stood King Kenny, Princess Queenie’s beloved step-father and King of the whole of Underworld. “Some of us are trying to sleep in here!” He growled and sneered as he spoke.
McCavity’s jaw flapped up and down in surprise (and perhaps a little bit of fear). “I…I…I’m sorry King Kenny, but I must declare my love to your beautiful daughter, Princess Queenie.” Queenie, for her part, smiled to herself behind her curtain. None of her previous suitors had stood up to her father before. She knew, then, that McCavity was the one for her. That didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy making him work for it though.
“Zip it!” King Kenny roared and he drew his hand through the air, fingers pinched as though he were closing a zip. A rather loud zipping noise ripped through the atmosphere.
“Mmmmoooo!” McCavity declared in surprise, his eyes wide as he swivelled them downwards, trying to look past his cheeks to his now zipped up lips. “Mmmm, mmmmooommm?” He desperately tried to prize open his lips so that he could continue his song. Rather daft, if you think of it, since if he had any ounce of intelligence at all, he would have simply raised his hand and unzipped his lips but no, McCavity had left his (already rather small) intelligence at home on that fateful evening.
Luckily for him, Princess Queenie had a small serving of intelligence that she felt she could share with him that moment. She stood by her window and, leaning out slightly, she looked up at her father. He peered over the rail of his balcony and smirked at her. Her brow furrowed in return and she stamped her feet in a way that is rather reminiscent of the moaning, whiny, Queen Queenie that we know of today.
“No father!” she bleated. “You simply cannot do that to the man that I love!” McCavity’s zipped lips creaked as they grew into a smile, for Queenie had returned his declaration of love. And all it took was getting his lips zipped up by the most powerful man in the land. Worth it, he thought. With that, Queenie’s hand flew through the air in the opposite direction of the King’s previous motion. With her fingers pinched as though holding the zip tab, she unzipped McCavity’s mouth. He gazed at her lovingly and began once more to strum his ukulele.
“You’re lovely and beautiful and rather divine,” he sang once more.
“Oh! Shut up McCavity!” she shouted down to him.
“But my love, you said you loved me,” he said before singing again. “Your face is delightful and I want it to kiss mine.”
“Ugh! Yes McCavity, you idiot. I did say that. Now don’t you make me regret it!” She looked down at him with fierce but loving eyes as her long, silky hair blew gently around her not-yet sour and pinched face. It wouldn’t be long though, of course, before she would look like she was permanently sucking on a lemon. That’s my girl, King Kenny thought as he watched his daughter show McCavity who’s boss.
“I love you, I wuv you, and now you are mine,” he continued. His lips, which still resembled zips, added a metallic tinge to his words.
“You just don’t listen, do you?” With that, Queenie swooshed her hand through the air as before, neatly doing up the zip that adorned McCavity’s face, and finishing with a flourish of a locking key. McCavity smiled, knowing that it would be some time before he could open his lips again but knowing too, that he had won the woman he loved. And so began the love story of Queenie and McCavity.
[*] If you don’t know about the royal son saga and all the happened between Queen Queenie and her hapless but endearing lover McCavity, why not look upJohn Sharpe: No. 1,348 on Amazon? It’s a bargain at only 99p…
To read more by Riley J. Froud, visit her website where she posts short stories, reviews, and general bookish nonsense.