Never A Namesake So True
A/N: Hey! First M&C Fic; ever since watching the movie repeatedly and identifying over half the cast by memory, creative instinct took over. Sorry I haven't read the books yet, I will though. There's not many in this category, and some are brilliant! (Notably MrsRJLupin) No slash in this story (that I'm aware of…), sorry. So! Prepare yourselves me hearties; this'll be the ship's ultimate "Surprise"!
Chapter 1: A New Start
For just a few hours, it seemed like all of Portsmouth was sleeping; silent, still in the darkness. Apart from the faint scurries of the streets, and the soft calling of the wind, there was nothing. Except for one person, already busy at work. Checking, and re-checking everything was in order; ready for the perfect plan. Well, almost perfect. No-one ever said it would be easy. People would say such things if they knew of the plan, and how it would also be the scandal of the late century. Very few people were aware of the situation; barely a whisper could be spoken of it. Such effort was taken to keep it as possible. So, in the peaceful early hours before dawn, all seemed to be going well.
A rucksack and a sea-chest was all that lay on the dusty floor before the scrawny youth. Everything was set. Except for the goodbyes; that was going to be far from easy. But months of planning and waiting for this morning had seemed too long, and it wasn't going to be spoiled now; it was finally time to go. The young adolescent swung the rucksack around one shoulder, and carefully picked up the small, but sturdy sea-chest, and then moved slowly across the room, silent as a mouse. Throughout the house, deep breathing was heard from the six sleeping figures all lying on the thin beds above the dirty floor. The youth tip-toed past the slumbering family and crept towards the door.
The youth nearly dropped the sea-chest in fright of the small, sudden voice. Turning around, a young girl of six sat up, rubbing her eyes.
'What?' the youth hissed back quietly.
'Where you going?' the child asked sleepily, her blue eyes glowing with curiosity.
'Nowhere Lizzie, go back to sleep.'
'What are you doing with that box Charlie?' Lizzie questioned. There was no stopping the young blonde.
'Nothing. Just go back to sleep.'
'Lizzie? What's wrong?' yawned another tired voice. The little girl, Lizzie, pointed to her oldest sibling.
'Charlie's going somewhere.' she replied, hardly bothering to keep her voice down. The owner of the second voice sat up, in the moonlight revealing a pale girl of eleven, with honey-coloured hair. Her eyes, blue like her sister's, narrowed suspiciously.
'Where are you sneaking off to?' she demanded. At the door, Charlie sighed, defeated.
'I'm leaving, if you must know.'
'What? Now? You can't!'
Charlie huffed in exasperation. 'I must. You knew this was coming Lucy.'
'Please Lu, keep quiet; you'll wake up the whole street!'
But it was too late, the older girl, Lucy, was already shaking her mother awake in haste.
'Mama, wake up! Mother!'
'Mmm, what?' the weary woman moaned. 'What is it love?'
'What?' This woke their mother right up. She sat bolt upright and turned, to see her eldest child packed and all but out the door. The woman's face fell in dread and horror, white as a sheet.
'Oh, my dear. No, no. you can't go, not yet!'
'You knew this was coming Mother, there's not much else I can do.'
The children's mother looked up earnestly, trying desperately to find another excuse. 'But, but…this is so sudden, my love… can't it wait just a little…'
'No. I can't wait any longer, unless you want to starve. I'm doing this for you remember. All of you.' reminded Charlie, looking over the family, including another young girl and two boys sleeping in oblivious peace.
'You're still determined to go through with this then?' the mother sighed. Charlie nodded.
'Of course. I'm set to go after all; you know this isn't something I've thought over idly.'
'Well, yes, I know, but…really- must you?'
The only reply was a nod. The youngest sister started to sob.
'But I don't want you to go!'
'I'm sorry Lizzie. But I must; father went to sea, as did Uncle Edward, and Big Charlie intended it too before he passed on. I have to do this.'
'No you don't!' Lucy said, adding to her family's argument, trying to mask the quavering in her voice. The girls' mother was more rational though. She ran a hand through her matted dark brown hair, and sighed heavily.
'Well, I see there is nothing I can do to stop you. And I appreciate your consideration of us; you are truly blessed in that way. But at least…let us give you a proper farewell, to see you off.' Charlie's eyebrows rose skeptically.
'No! God. No celebrations Mother. I wanted to keep this as quiet as possible, remember?'
'I knew you'd object. Just let us walk with you to the harbour before you go. Goodness knows when we'll see you again.' She responded. The meaning was all there.
It was a request than could hardly be refused. Despite Charlie's desperation to get away from the dull, persistently hard life in Portsmouth, working everyday to try and help feed six other mouths, there was no way Charlie would leave without saying goodbye. Charlie ran a hand over the tan cap that covered a thick crop of dark, wavy hair, in deep thought, Charlie decided to relent.
'Alright; come with me. But we haven't got much time. I only have a few hours to get to the port.'
'We'll make it. I'll wake the others.'
And with that, Charlie's mother moved out of her thin mattress, and gently woke the three children still sleeping, two young boys and a girl. She softly explained that they had to get up and dressed, to take Charlie to the docks. After slow preparations, and small bites of breakfast, bought by the last of Charlie's working money. The walk to Portsmouth Harbour was slow; it gave the whole family a chance to think over what was about to happen. A few tears were shed on the way by the girls, they didn't want to lose Charlie, the only one who provided them full protection to keep them alive; ever since their father had gone to sea, and their other families had all but forgotten them. Six year old Billy, the youngest boy of the family, didn't understand why his mother, brother and sisters were so upset, so remained quietly inquisitive, unlike his twin sister Lizzie. Charlie let no tears fall; now was no time to show any weakness, especially considering the circumstances. It was brave face all the way, and complete silence from the tallest member of the group.
After nearly an hour and a half of walking, they had reached their destination. The harbour docks were all abuzz with life; people going here, there, and everywhere, and the sounds of boats echoing from all around. For a few minutes, the family forgot why they were there, and looked around in awe at the massive ships, the bustling crowd, struck by the magnitude of the open place. But Charlie had seen it all; the many trips to and from the yards in between work, observing everything that went on; a basic form of learning ways of the sea, but it was better than nothing. Charlie remained thankful for the confidential conversations that had been shared with Mr. Jenkins who owned the shop next door to their small dingy room above the clothing shop, not to mention Mrs. Jenkins for all the extra help she'd provided. Were it not for them, Charlie would probably not even be approaching the shipyards at all.
Knowing exactly where to go, the family followed behind the taller youth, keeping close, unaware of what was going on. Charlie quietly told them to wait and headed off to a grubby table near one of the ports. Two grim, rough-looking men were sitting behind it, with a disposition that signaled to Charlie that they were not the brightest of men. They looked quite bored as Charlie approached them. One of the men, with a long, shaggy beard narrowed his eyes at the sight of the scrawny youth.
'I'm here to sign up for the crew of the Silverfish.'
The men exchanged glances of skepticism as they looked Charlie up and down quickly.
'Is that so? Name?' the second man demanded. Charlie took a deep breath, making effort to sound a little more mature, with a deliberately lower voice.
'Charles E Hamlin.'
'Right. How old are you boy?'
'Twelve sir, thirteen in December.'
'You hardly look like you can handle a sail boy.'
'How do you know I can't?' Charlie shot back immediately, angered by the men's assuming first impressions. The men, though surprised at the boy's quick response, glared at him threateningly.
'You'd wanna watch your tongue boy, an attitude like that won't get you far. Save it for when you want the skin beat off your back.' the first man added menacingly. They both leered at Charlie, who was staring to wonder whether this was a good idea.
'You ever been at sea?'
'Not really, I…No sir.'
The two men still seemed doubtful. The second man, after sighing tiredly, made a decision. Charlie could distinctly smell the alcohol in his breath.
'Well, you're young, no real experience. But you'll probably grow yet, enough to be a mizzenlad or a common sailor. You may be some use some day. Sign there.' he said, indicating the next vacant line on the sheet of paper. Charlie grabbed a quill and scrawled the name Charles E Hamlin. It was in writing now, there was no going back- it was Charles "Charlie" Hamlin, and that was how it would have to stay.
'You bring anything with you?' the first man sneered. Charlie indicated the rucksack and small sea-chest.
'Good enough. We leave in two hours. You got anyone to say goodbye to?' the second man added carelessly. Charlie pointed to the anxiously waiting family about fifty metres away.
'That lot there. No one else.'
'Right. Do ya farewells, and then get back here before the hours' up.'
'Yes sir. Thank you gentlemen.' finished Charlie, even though they were far from gentlemen. As soon as Charlie had turned around in the other direction, the four females' two young males all rushed in anticipation.
'Well? What did they say?'
'They didn't seem too confident, or bright for that matter. But my name's on that list now. I'm going.'
Immediately Charlie's mother burst into tears, the girls beginning to sob as well. This was not how Charlie wanted to say goodbye.
'Don't cry Mam, please. Everything will be fine, I promise.'
'Oh, oh my baby, who'd have thought it? If your father could see you now…'
'He'd tell me he'd done the same thing in his state, I'm sure. Never mind though. Now come on, I've got to go soon.' Charlie put down the sea-chest and hugged the crying woman, who began to whisper urgently.
'Have you got everything you need?'
'That and more I believe.'
'Well good. Now, try to remember every month…'
'I'll keep track. Mrs. Jenkins says it gets better with age.'
'Yes, and keep your bindings tight, and fitted, and don't expose yourself if you can help it.'
'Wouldn't dream of it.' Charlie replied dryly.
'And…oh, what am I going to do? I'm not going to see you grow up properly at all! What will become of you, living a life like that at sea?'
'I don't know mother, but I'll write, send my prize money when I join a proper friggot, this one's only a sloop, but I'll count my luck. And I'll make you proud; at least I'll try, just like you'd all want me to.' Charlie replied as evenly as possible. After one more hug, it was time to farewell the rest of the lot.
'Alright- twins; Lizzie, keep Billy out of trouble, Billy, take care of your sister, and don't let her get away with everything. Try and be responsible and help out Mama.
'Jamie, I know you're eight, but try not to get into any silly scrapes now. Make sure everyone's okay. Remember little lad, you're the man of the house now.' added Charlie with a wry smile.
'But what about Uncle Thomas?' James asked. Charlie smiled, ruffling the boy's dark brown curls.
'You'll still see him. And Aunt Kathy. But you have to be good from now on; I won't be here for a long time.'
'When are you coming back Charlie?' little Lizzie asked through her tears.
'I'm afraid I don't know, but I ill come back one day, I will. You just all have to behave and be patient until I do, all right?' and with that, Charlie engulfed the small, blonde twins in a massive hug. Charlie then turned to the other two sisters.
'Maggie; don't grow up too fast, enjoy who you are now, things will get better. Take care of Mum, try and help with the shop.' instructed Charlie, hugging the nine year-old brunette tightly. She fought back tears, trying to look brave.
'Lucy; you're the oldest now. Not Jack, not Big Charlie, not me, you. Make sure they're okay, just don't do what I did; don't go to…such drastic measures. Don't try to be more mature than you already are; you'll know what to do. Trust me.'
Lucy sniffled. 'You can't leave; I don't know what to do without you!'
'You'll manage. It'll be fine.' Charlie reassured.
'But what about you? What if you get hurt? Or if someone found out…'
'No one will ever know. And you can't tell anyone, ever. I can take care of myself now. Now I have to go, I'm sorry.'
Charlie picked up the abandoned sea-chest, and looked upon the sorrowful family one last time, embracing Jennifer; the adoring, hard-working mother who was now giving up another child.
'Be safe my love. I will always think of you.'
'And I you Mama.' Charlie's voice cracked, as the tears threatened to spill, but Charlie fought them back. Jennifer continued to sob quietly, as Charlie began to pull away. But Jennifer held her child's face in her hands.
'I love you…Charlotte.'
Charlie gasped pulled back further, staring wide-eyed
'Don't ever call me that. Never can you speak that name again.' was the quiet, hissed reply.
'But you'll always be my strong, willful little girl. My baby.'
'Not anymore Mother. Charlotte's gone; she stopped being that person a long time ago. I'm Charlie Hamlin, and I still will be when I come back, don't forget. I'm him now, have been for years. Charlie is with me; he'll keep me safe. He'll watch me from up there, I know he will. I love you. Goodbye.'
And with one last clasp of Jennifer's hand, and a final pressing look at Lucy, Maggie, James, Lizzie, and Billy; Charlie turned in the other direction, and headed up to the looming ship. This was the time; the time to begin a new life.
September, 1805. HMS Surprise.
'Charlie! Hey Blue! Get over here!' someone whispered loudly.
Charlie tore her eyes away from the expanse of murky blue sea, spread out across the foggy horizon, and sighed deeply. Glancing up, Will Warley's face was spread out in an excited grin; what on earth would he be going on about now? It was six o'clock in the morning for goodness sake.
'What?' Charlie hissed back confused.
'I think they've found her!' he exclaimed quietly, sidling a little closer along the starboard railing.
'The Acheron you dolt! Come on!' he said, clapping Charlie on the back and treading back to the front section of the ship. Charlie followed, pulling down the blue beanie covering her growing locks of dark, wavy hair. "I really need to cut it again, this is getting ridiculous." thought Charlie darkly. Even after being a sailor in His Majesty's Navy for eight years, and falling into the routine of prime disguise, Charlie had come to the conclusion that her body would never stop changing, even after everything that had happened since she left Portsmouth. The gradual transition from brave young girl, to keen young boy, to conflicted and troubled adolescent (boy and girl, they both presented their own challenges), to now; someone everyone else believed to be a young man.
At nineteen years old, being a young woman hardly mattered anymore; there was no one to acknowledge it, Charlie had no real purpose as the persona she should have always been. She should have probably been married by now, with one or two children. But in the navy? No way. It was possible, but she was well aware of the consequences of letting her guard down; she had suffered them more than once.
After a quick look back at the devouring ocean, Charlie turned to see Warley's disappearing figure in the heavy fog. She followed him in silence. At the quarter-deck, and all over the main decks, she could hear whispering and muttering all around. Whilst the midshipmen were debating over whether they had actually seen a ship or not, the sailors were all waiting around, anxious to see whether they were to beat to quarters.
'Finding Blue Charlie I think.'
'Already here.' Warley announced, trying to keep his voice down among the middy's debate above. The small group turned around, with Charlie appearing at Warley's shoulder a moment later.
'You took you time.' muttered Joe Nagle as his two best friends joined their party. 'What took you so long?'
'I think little Blue's been day-dreaming again.' Warley teased. Nagle smirked.
'Head in the clouds again Blue?' he said in a similar tone, making to discard Charlie's infamous blue beanie off and ruffle the young man's hair. But Charlie knew better, swiftly ducking Nagle's attempt, then straightening up again.
'Shut up. What's happening then?'
'They think they've seen the Frenchy boat.'
'They think?' Charlie repeated.'
'Mm. Midshipman Hollom of all people "thinks" he's seen it. God, in this fog, it's enough to make people imagine things.'
'You still think he's a hopeless cause do you?' asked Charlie, aware of Joe's sour attitude towards Surprises' oldest midshipman. Nagle bobbed his head down.
'If ever there was one. Did you h…'
'Beat to Quarters!'
There was a sudden scramble as men and boys alike shoved and ran up and down the decks to prepare. Below, tables were cleared and replaced with maps or surgical equipment, powder monkeys raced to collect full buckets, while cannons were prepared.
'Captain's coming!' someone announced as none other than "Lucky" Jack Aubrey made his way up to the Senior Officers with Lt. Pullings. After more discussion, examination, and debate, the Captain looked through his telescope for final confirmation. In the distance, there were three heavy bangs, and suddenly, the Captain shouted: 'ALL HANDS DOWN!' as cannonballs ripped through the Surprises'frame and sent men and splinters flying.
It was the Acheron alight; it came out clearer in the fog as it got alarmingly closer. Charlie followed Nagle, Warley, Doudle, and Mr. Lamb below, coming up a few minutes later with heavy supplies to secure the decks and prepare the masts. The others all climbed into positions and waited for the order. As the distant, unmistakable thud and bang of cannon fire was heard from the Acheron, Charlie took a few deep breaths, trying to suppress the familiar adrenaline rush that coursed through her body. Even after eight years, and all the fighting, there was still the looming fear that hung in the dense atmosphere; there was every chance this could be some men's last battle, the ship's last battle.
But Charlie shook off the thoughts as Warley signaled to her. But as another set of shots from the 18 pounder crashed the ship and Officers yelled their commands, Charlie realized she was meant to be elsewhere, and dodged and weaved her way down below where she was needed. Funny, Charlie thought, if she ever died, chances were no one would have ever have known she was not a fighting lad, and still "Blue" Charlie Hamlin. Whether her identity mattered or not, now was not the relevant time to think on it. She was a member of the esteemed H.M.S. Surprise, and to the ends of the earth, everyone was equal in their loyal service to the flag, for England and its King, and for Captain Jack Aubrey; their Master and Commander.
A/N: There we go! Chapter 1 What do you all think? Please give me thoughts, questions, praise, con-crit, anything. Coooookieeees….sorry, I must be hungry. Reviews and subscriptions appreciated!
Peace out Earthlings,