With very an eye towards history, I present to you fellow officers of the League of Nations task force, the story of an unlikely pair of ships, thought lost before the rise of the Belles and the Morgana. Like most things in life, greatness is something we might carry within us, unknowing until dire need and circumstance calls it forth. You can either rise to the challenge, or fail to face your fate with courage in your heart. When your time comes, will you? This is a very rough draft that I'm already working on redrafting. My SO has suggested I make an initial publication however, both for feedback and for the general amusement of others. It's also not complete, so there's that.
Captain (Ne Colonel) TwoHeavens, United States Marine Corps
Up and Away in the Morning - Poxy Boggards (for your auditory enjoyment, cheers.)
“With her enchanting songs, her rare beauty, and clever tricks, this wild 'wanderess' ensnared my soul like a gypsy-thief, and led me foolish and blind to where you find me now.”
― Roman Payne, The Wanderess
“Are you absolutely shar about thisn? The guards here are pretty well armed and but for some celestial navigation guesses no’o us are sure where in the hells we are...”
The older man’s thick accent slurs out into the world, a mix of thick British accent, the tongue of sailors and a once broken jaw. “There’s not much of another option. HMS Gypsy and U-141 are tied up and ready to go. We just have to slip in, plant some explosives and seize the ships. We have more than enough able seamen and the technical specialists required to man, sail and fight the ships.”
In comparison the younger man’s voice was short, clipped and professional, giving the impression that the man speaking is well educated, though the naval tongue has given him slight accent to those who have never stepped off of land.
The wizened old sailor makes a great show of considering what the other man is saying, the plan that had just been outlined to him.
“Yer mad you are, a crazy son of a bitch as I’ve never seen. This’ll probably be getting’es all kilt skipper, but they’ve all voted you and Commander Le Clair...” spit hits the ground, the old Englishman had no love lost for the former French naval officer. “...to be guidin’ us outta here. Like Virgil and Dante. Yer mad, but that may just be what we need.”
“Brilliance and madness commonly intersect you’ll find.” The old man laughs at that and lights a cigarette, a face craigy with years of hard sun and salt water briefly illuminated, white hair peeking out from under a thick watch cap as he takes a long drag. “I’ll get'th lot of your band o’bastards set up and ready, and send the ones with real fighting experience beside bar room brawls against Montego Bay prostitutes to you for what’ns to come. We’ll fight. All of us. Die too. Don’t waste our lives for nothing skipper.” And with that, he vanishes out of the rundown one room shanty, leaving the younger man, newly appointed captain of a pair of crews without ships alone with his own thoughts, as he considered the stolen map of the sea port of St. Malo, and the hidden cove nearby, with a pier and small facility that had some unusual occupants... ----
He came from a maritime family, with a history of seamanship running in their blood. Not one blood line male in the six generations at least who wasn’t a proud and loyal shellback. He’d bucked tradition slightly with school and a commission as a military officer, an American Marine, not the Navy, much to his father’s everlasting shame, as the old man was wont to joke. He’d done a few years “before the mast”, doing sea service and some small combat deployments all over the world till the Marine Corps offered him voluntary early discharge. He’d switched his commission over to the U.S. Merchant Marine and had served loyally for the last several years, young for a senior ship’s officer in his late 20s.
That was before his ship had been torpedoed in blue water, himself and his surviving sailors rounded up and taken prisoner aboard a submarine, before being deposited at the cove near St. Malo, herded into these caves that served as a prison camp.
They hadn’t been harmed or injured beyond the initial attacks, taken into the small camp for labor in groups of two or three, with no explanation forthcoming from their captors for why they were being held, and where the ships in the harbor had come from. The Gypsy herself had been reported sunk, and Imperial Germany’s cruiser U-boats hadn’t exactly been made in bulk either. He sinks back against the rough rock wall and lights his own cigarette, a habit he’d long been working to kick, taking a deep and thoughtful drag as he considered the last few months. His seas were getting strange indeed with reports of odd, almost unnatural fogs and storms, vanishings left and right, and now reports of warships in particular manifesting spirits in some way. “Belles eh?” He shakes his head, setting aside the thought, no spirit of a ship was going to be showing up to help them this time, no gods, angels or demons either. They would have to do it themselves.
They had no real weapons, rocks, one broken oar and a scavenged knife against a base full of men with rifles and pistols. That was a math equation that just didn’t work out... unless you cheated anyway.
The Captain was in the vanguard, leading his men as he’d learned his whole life to. From his father’s knee to Marine OCS. From the front. Sliding out of the night and ambling up as if he was about strike up conversation with the sentry, silently offering the man a cigarette from his tattered pack, the one luxury afforded the prisoners, usually as rewards for work. The man took it with a curt nod, turning against the wind to light the unfiltered tobacco stick before falling silently with the stolen kitchen knife lodged squarely between his ribs into his heart. Recovering the guard’s weapons and the key to the heavy iron gate that kept them contained in the caves, knife, pistol and rifle were quickly provisioned out to the most combat experienced men amongst them, the Captain keeping the pistol by a silent agreement. He’d shed blood for them, and risked his before risking theirs, he was their captain now in truth. Signed and sealed in blood.
The thirty men of the sailors who had prior military fighting experience, mostly Masters at Arms and a few Marines swept up the hill in the darkness, moving as silently as possible with their improvised weapons, eliminating sentries with only the soft dull thud of a heavy stone on temple, or the gurgling chokes of someone being strangled by hands coming from the darkness. The soldiers sleeping in the barracks were left asleep, sleeping far more soundly with a swift cosh to the temple, the men deprived of their weapons and bound secured so the real fight could begin, overcoming the sentries and watch crews aboard the ships themselves. The rest of the men were being brought up by a runner, capturing the deck of both the destroyer and U-boat were critical, an AA machinegun that happened to be loaded could easily kill them all if one of the men on deck made it to it.
The best of the marksmen had crawled into place on top of the barracks from the other side of the building and were laying in wait, each sighting in on the armed men walking the decks. Once again the captain was in the lead, silently moving up to the sentry at the bottom of the gangplank as he looked for a wave from one of his men hiding nearby to signal that all were in position, at the wave he callously tucked his revolver behind the sentry’s ear, the loud crack of the young man’s life ending triggering a torrent of rifle fire, as the decks of both vessels were suddenly sprayed with blood, and armed men began to rush the ships, fighting like demons with rifle, pistol, knife, club and bare hands. If they failed they would surely be killed en masse, but this was a chance for freedom, to return to the seas after these months of captivity. There were few motivations finer.
The captain was once again to the fore, capturing the bridge before taking some of the men below and capturing the armory, passing out shotguns so they could clear the ship. The last enemy sailor was caught near the magazines, trying to rig a scuttling charge and catching a charge of buckshot for his trouble, another rapid sweep by all hands ensuring no hidden bombs or men were waiting for them before turning to and getting ready to set sail.
He sat alone but for a quickly appointed helmsman and the self appointed chief, a salty old man with more years at sea than on land, his ear glued to the ship’s comms with a scowl on his scarred face. His voice matched his face, rough, grating and curt. “Captain, Weapons reports the ship’s weapons have been upgraded significantly for a G-class destroyer, higher caliber torpedoes, and the guns are 5” double mounts instead of the original type IXs. There’s some other differences but all weapons are fully operational and armed. They’re loading the torpedo tubes from the dock supplies now, and the reloads are already below. Quartermaster reports full provisions and fuel, and that parts of the ship have been modified to act as direct Submarine support.” “Such as?” “A fueling system and tethering rig for at sea replenishment.” “That will help U-141 certainly. Have we heard from them?” A runner can be heard pounding up the gangplank, a flush faced young man appearing in the door of the bridge, the old Chief cackling. “I’m expecting that’ll be the answer to that question Captain.”
The younger man, oblivious to his senior’s sarcasm manages to salute in between panting breaths. “Sir, Commander Le Claire sends his regards, and reports that U-141 is fully secured and supplied, and is ready to sail at your order. He has taken the liberty of loading his torpedo tubes, and “borrowing” a few more from the dock.” “Are these extra torpedos secured below already then?” “Yes sir, the crew was able to get them handled quickly with the Commander’s supervision.” “How many able submariners besides himself?” “A round dozen sir, but we’re all learning quickly...” The young man gulps slightly in spite of himself.
“Commander Le Claire has made it quite clear that not being quick studies means we will very likely all die.” The Captain stifles a laugh, not wanting to seem like he was making light of what was clearly something quite serious to the younger man, so he hides amusement behind a sharp nod of his head. Fixing the white officer’s cover one of the men had retrieved down below in place. “Tell the Commander we depart in two hours. A runner will bring the course our navigator is working out for us.” “Aye sir!” With another salute the soon to be newly minted submariner races back amidships towards the gangplank, to carry his message. “Chief you heard what I told him. I want a ready confirmation from all departments the second they’re ready to sail.” “Aye sir.” -----------------
The bow of the destroyer cut into the cold water of the English channel in the dark of the night, running without lights, no men allowed smoking. As quiet as possible. Sailors throughout the ship practically holding their breaths as the two ships crept towards the Celtic sea and the open waters of the North Atlantic. If they were spotted, by any nation presently involves in the growing war, they would likely be attacked immediately.
Only the Gipsy’s original owners with the British Royal Navy might stop to signal them, for a moment before shells and torpedoes were heading their way, and considering the Gipsy was supposed to be a wreck somewhere after catching a mine amidships it wasn't a maybe anyone wanted to bet on. The empty blue of the Atlantic, and surrender to the American or Royal Canadian Navy was the safest course of action.
Or they could keep going. Head South after taking on coal under a British flag and account in the U.S. then make for the warmer equatorial waters. Find a small nation to work for, or maybe find and island and really go pirate. The captain grins to himself in the darkened bridge, savoring the warm, pleasant distraction as they sail on in the freezing seas of the Atlantic.
The time passed glacially slow. Each nautical mile clawed through like crawling through a field of glass. As they cleared the channel some hours later, as dawn began to creep on horizon, the order they had all been waiting for finally came.
“Signal the U-boat, secure from general quarters. All ahead full. I want watch rotation lists from section heads by noon today.”
The helmsman responds with an enthusiastic shout, his voice cracking a bit after hours of tense silence.
“All ahead full, aye sir!”
The order to secure from quarters moved throughout the Gipsy like a collective sigh of relief. They all knew they were far from out of the woods, but for now they were away and back on the sea. The sea could be hostile and dangerous, but as sailors they knew her, could feel her, and understand her. Their current situation however? Kidnapping, murder, intrigue? These salty men wanted little tuck with such things. Even if such was to be their fate.
They made good time as they struck out into the bitter cold of the Atlantic in winter time. Many of the crews of both vessels began to get relaxed, learning new duties and falling into the well known and well worn rhythm of duty rotation and watch standing.
There was some friction of course, men brought together by adversity bond in some of the most powerful ways, but a mix of nationalities from the world over, and military men mixed now with merchant sailors left some points of friction that caused the occasional spark. A German was attacked by a Frenchman, their contest ended by the Chief Bosun smacking their heads together like a pair of coconuts, knocking them both senseless.
The Captain's mast was public, with both crews in attendance. The cruiser submarine tied up along side, requiring some replenishment and crew swaps. Le Claire had insisted on dive training, and some men though able sailors proved not as able submariners.
The skipper's voice rang out across both decks, no aid of an intercom system needed, just a booming voice as he listed the charges, and established his authority over their “flotilla” on international maritime law, and voted consent of both crews. This done, he handed down the sentence. The two men would now shadow each other. Bunk in racks next to each other, eat together, stand post together, and be reassigned to share the same duty section and tasks.
“Your crew is forever your family.” His voice rippled across the assembled sailors likes great wave, washing away at some of the animosity and discontent amongst his men.
“Abandoned or betrayed by some of our homelands, willing outcasts, and worse. Proud sons of Neptune all. The sea is our nation and our homeland, if you must brawl over matters of the land of your birth, save it for the land, but here, in the sea you have chosen, all that matters is that you perform your tasks with skill, to preserve your life and the lives of the men aboard one of the two women you must love with all your heart, your ship and the sea itself.”
With that he dismissed the companies of both ships, the men roaring back to their posts with buoyed spirits, and while they set to work, in the heart of the HMS Gipsy, something was slowly starting to coalesce. Energy, bright and warm like the rays of the sun slowly coming together, responding to the passion of the ship’s new master and commander.
His first hint that something was happening aboard the Gipsy that he truly had no control over came about a day later when he finally was forced back to his quarters by the Chief and the stout Spaniard who'd been elected as his executive officer. Both demanding he at least get six hours of rack in, and the more past that the better. He'd not been to the quarters of the former captain yet, his now he supposed, and nearly jumped out of his skin to find a young woman there, perched gracefully on the side of the bed, dusky skin and raven black hair offset perfectly by bright green eyes and an odd mix of Romani and more conventional clothing.
“So you're the new captain. I was wondering when someone would finally find me... I've managed to eat and hide here since your men seized the ship...”
He stroked his beard slowly, watching her.
“Well you have nothing to fear from me.”
“That's what the last captain said when he took me from.my home and brought me here. Are you going to abuse me as well?”
Her eyes suggested to the captain that her story was a bald faced lie. He got the impression that anyone trying to do anything against her will would find themselves in mortal peril very quickly. As such he picks his words slowly.
“No, and never. As such I won't tell anyone you're here, ensure you have food and you certainly won't share a bed with me even if we have to share a cabin. The crew will be suspicious if I sleep elsewhere.”
Her smile is coy and mysterious, like she's in on some joke on the grand scale and no one else is picking up on the punch line just yet.
“Interesting... you decided on that quickly, and it's a good plan too.”
“We'll smuggle you off at the next major port with whatever money I can dig out of here. Now
What should I call you by miss?”
“Oh my, manners maketh man don't they captain? If that chestnut of wisdom is true you're a man apart... just as your role would indicate. As for your plan, we'll see. Captain, please call me Gipsy if you would... think of it like a nickname.”
He pondered his new guest’s odd words and mannerisms for a moment before simply nodding.
“As you wish then Gipsy. I'm going to go get food. It's got to have been a bit since you had a proper meal.”
“Oh I might be just a tad peckish captain.”
It had been a few days since the Captain had had to sling a hammock in his billet for himself, his actual rack occupied even now by a dark skinned young woman with piercing green eyes, the ever taunting and teasing Gipsy seemed to be his companion for conversation more and more often, but for all the words they exchanged it sometimes bothered him how little they actually said.
They both knew he wasn't buying her line about being the previous captain's pleasure slave or prize. Or any other submissive role. The Captain's initial assessment had been correct, he reflected, any man who thought he could manage the feat of even briefly putting Gipsy to heel would likely find himself dead before he could even blink, the second she decided to get serious.
He gave her no special deference all the same, but treated her with his usual slightly distant courtesy until they both managed to warm up to each other a bit, Gipsy prying his life story from him, his interests, and offering next to nothing of herself in turn except a passion for music that they happened to share. Every now and then for a fraction of a second he'd catch what almost seemed like a frustrated look on her face... like she wanted to respond to his own inquiries but couldn't for whatever reason.
Still, she showed an incredible intellect and had a ravenous appetite for learning of any kind. Anything not related to the ship, the ocean, tactics and so forth she wanted to hear more about. Which is how they came to be playing chess. One of the few items of the last captain had left that his forced successor had kept. A triumphant look crossed Gipsy’s face as she gave away her find of a winning move set, the Captain luring her in and letting her...
The Captain just grins and makes how own move.
“Not quite. Check mate.”
The outraged squawk from his companion have him quite the laugh indeed, deep and warm, the way he used to remember laughing as a boy. He began to walk her through the explanation of what was going on when the PA system sounded.
“Now here this, now here this, general quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battlestations, captain to the bridge.”
The captain shoots her an apologetic look.
“Try and work it out yourself. We'll go over it when I get back.”
Before racing out the hatch, sealing it behind him as he headed for the bridge.
The situation that met him was anything like what he had expected. As night fell, darkness preceded the twilight, purple tendrils of lightning crackling in an unnatural fog. After being filled in by his XO all he could do was stroke his beard for a moment, watching the rolling clouds after ordering a full stop.
“What in the hell...”
“It's a Morgana.”
A matter of fact and very familiar female voice responds. Gipsy having slid it onto the bridge with nary a whisper of air or sound. The Captain ignores his bridge crew's confusion and focuses on the strange young woman.
“I was hoping this could wait till we made it to a safe port or something, but my hand has just been forced. My name is exactly what I told you it was Captain, Gipsy. HMS Gipsy. I am a Belle, and we are about to be in a fight for our lives.”
As if to punctuate her statement, a dark silhouette becomes visible within the fog's mysterious depths, a warship approaching at flank speed. A vessel that cut through the waves like his own ships, but the way Gipsy talked about these “Morgana”, the tone in her voice...
“What do we do?”
“I can fight the ship with the crew, better than any other destroyer on earth, but I need a captain too. I can barely play chess much less fight a naval engagement. You will be my captain. Issue your orders. To all of us.”
The XO seemed like he was about to protest when what Gipsy called a Morgana began to engage, all but one shell going wide, piercing through one of the stacks before exploding in a flash of purple light behind them. That's enough to override any confusion revolving around the mysterious young woman who called herself a Belle. It was either trust her and have a chance to survive, or die.