“Holland boats” are a reference to John Philip Holland, often referred to as “the father of the modern submarine”. I figure that dwarves might have even more use of them than humans, so perhaps I’ll expand on it later. Since merchant submarines were a thing in the WW1-era, how about Connacht Trading have a private fleet of merchant submarines to avoid North Atlantic storms (and other dangers)?
The listening and observation posts west of Ballyconneely had long since been established as part of the quarantine network around Connemara. Approximately a company was garrisoned in a series of blockhouses around the peninsula, connected to the main forts at Ballyconeely and Roundstone by redundant telephone wires. Within ten minutes, a report of a suspicious ship would be filtered through the command station, plotted on the mapping tables and relayed out to the corvettes and destroyer boats on standby or already out on patrol. In theory, at least. In practice, every single sighting in the last thirty years had turned out to either be one of their own ships, or phantoms due to atmospheric conditions. Only once had an unidentified ship turned out to be something unusual – a bulk carrier out of New York had got lost in a storm, and been very glad to be steered away from the orc-occupied quarantine zone.
Just a mile off the coast of Connemara, the swell of an otherwise normal patch of sea was subtly broken by a metallic tube that was bent forward into a right-angle. It remained there for some time, unhurriedly rotating to either side. Had any naval vessel been close enough to spot it, it would have been quickly recognised. To their southeast, a recurrent yellow flash marked a distant lighthouse, but there were no other signs of lights along the coastline. Apparently satisfied, the tube began to rise. It turned out to be surrounded by a large metal oval that in turn was mounted onto a long cigar-shaped body. The machine steadied itself once the flat top of the body was at least a metre above the waves. Less than a minute later, a sextet of humans clad in nondescript pea coats appeared inside the oval, facing outwards. They remained still, scanning the surrounding horizon for any sign that they had been detected. At a hoarse command from one of them, a conical hatch popped open in the top of the metal cigar. Two of the humans in the tower swung themselves over the port side, grasping the ladder that had been welded into the side of the tower, and scuttled down towards the hatch. Crouching on either side of it, they began to drag up a long, thin crate that had appeared in the opening. As they manhandled the crate and several others like it up onto the deck, the crew on the tower kept their eyes outwards. With the exception of the captain and his second-in-command, none of them knew for certain what was actually inside the crates; all they knew was that their orders were to drop it offshore where it might be easily found by the garrisons around Connemara, without being detected or identified. There was a reason why the flag had been removed a couple of days ago. After ten more crates had been dragged up, the two stevedores were joined by another pair from the hatch. The four of them turned their attention to a crude wooden raft that had been lashed to the deck behind the hatch, carefully lowering it into the water and tying it to the side of the submarine. One of them climbed down onto the raft, making his way over to the far side as the rest began to lower the crates onto it. Swiftly, he began to arrange and tie them onto the raft, keeping the weight as evenly distributed as possible. Finally, they opened the last crate, which was shorter and thicker than the rest. The wooden box that they pulled out had a long pole sticking out of the bottom, with curved wooden blades mounted at right angles on one end. As they lowered it to the raft, one of them climbed down with it and began to help the fourth crewman tie it onto the bow side of the raft with the blades faced outwards. When they were satisfied that it was fastened tightly enough, one of them began to pull sharply on a cord. On the third attempt, the engine started to push forwards against the ropes with a muted putt-putt. The crewmen on the ramp scrambled back up onto the deck just before the ropes were cast off and thrown onto the raft, freeing it to scrape alongside the submarine. One of them picked up a boathook that they had presciently brought with them and prodded at the bow of the raft, pushing it away from the submarine and towards the shore. As they closed the hatch and began to climb back into the tower, the raft kept chugging to the southeast with its mysterious cargo. Before long, both the raft and the submarine had disappeared from sight, leaving nothing but the waves and spray.
Brother-Captain Fintan stared at the rifle that the armourer had placed on the table in front of him and the commander of Dún Bhaile Conaola. At first glance, it looked like any regular Mauser rifle that the British Army had been using for the last fifteen years or so. Far too long and unwieldy for a son (or daughter) of the tunnels, but by all accounts a solid, reliable rifle. There was just one problem. This rifle was one of fifty that had been found in a pile of crates that had landed near Slyne Head, attached to a raft that had a small engine attached to it. That was certainly not a normal delivery mechanism – let alone an authorised one – and the armourer’s brief technical examination made it even worse. “No serial number or proof marks on the outside,” the other dwarf had explained, pointing with a chewed fingernail at various points around the rifle's working parts. Even to the Inquisitor’s untrained eye, every point he had highlighted had clearly been filed down to obscure or remove the identifying details. “What about the ammunition?” the commander asked. The armourer handed him one of the tapered bullets. “As you can see, sir, it’s standard British three-oh-three, made by Vickers.” Left unspoken were the facts that the Vickers-Bedford conglomerate sold to anyone with enough money, and that the Connacht Trading Company had a stake in the conglomerate. The Inquisitor sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, missing the brief look of panic on the armourer’s face. Now wasn’t that a mess? Rifles that were widely used throughout Europe and America, suddenly appearing on the coast of the quarantine zone without any identifying marks or any sign of the ship that delivered them. And this wasn’t the first instance that the Inquisition knew of. “Brother?” “Thank you, Sergeant, that will be all. Commander, you may tell the watch posts that we suspect somebody is attempting to supply the Fomorians by sea.” He paused in the doorway as something occurred to him. “Let us meet in your office in about an hour or so. My report will have to include a possible explanation for how we have failed.” “We?” the commander echoed, narrowing his eyes. Behind him, the armourer’s panic briefly reappeared as he realised that the commander was arguing with a Seeker. Fintan shrugged. “My contingent did not observe any such ships either on our own guard shifts out there. As far as I remember, every single confirmed ship in the last two or three years has turned out to be either League-controlled or British. I think it very likely that the guards have simply let their attention wander after nothing happening for a very long time.” Or whoever did this didn’t use a cargo ship that we’d have spotted, the commandant thought as the Inquisitor finally left. And that yielded another thought. What if it was one of those Holland boats?