The Great Game: Warriors off Valencia

My first attempt at a play, or rather extracts from one, is set in the war of vengeance against Spain.

Warriors off Valencia

A Tragedy in three acts, touching on certain events of the Great War

Act I, Scene I

A ship’s forecastle. In the background is the coast of Spain, and many ships; some bear dragon-head prows, others fly the Cross of St. George. Enter an Admiral and a Flag-Captain.

Admiral: What news of our scouts?

Flag-Captain: The Spanish fleet remains at port; they put forth neither battleship nor frigate.

Admiral: They have grown soft in long years of rule; we shall beard them in their den, and bring once more the fame of northern arms to these limpid waters. But see, are not these my captains, come to hear their place in the battle? Welcome, my sons.

Enter three Captains

1st Captain: Father, we have heard from bondsmen what seems to us incredible; we would hear it from your lips.

Admiral: Your request would be better heard were it couched in military courtesy; a commander girding for battle does not covet the title of ‘Father’.

2nd Captain: Then, Sir and Admiral, let my words in courtesy join my brother’s in filial love; tell us of our place.

Admiral: Have not your orders told it?

3rd Captain: Aye, but we gave them no credit. Shall the greatest ships of the Norwegian Fleet lie sluggardly in the rear, while others take the pride of place?

Admiral: Such are my orders.

1st Captain: Long Serpent, Eidsvold, Norge : These to take the rear when broadsides clamour?

Admiral (sharply): Aye; do Ynglings now question orders? Valencia nears; my time is short.

2nd Captain: It were ill, did fatherly love make victory uncertain.

Admiral: In war is no surety; my dispositions are such as seem best to me. Fight your ships; the whip and the noose waits for those who break from their place.

3rd Captain (aside): Fight your ships, quoth he; ’tis a hard task he sets us, where no foeman comes close!

1st Captain: We go; we await your word. Forget not; Long Serpent, Eidsvold, Norge : ever ready we stand. Exit all

Act I, Scene II

A gundeck being prepared for battle. Ammunition is being carried to the cannons; muskets and cutlasses are passed around. Enter a Master Gunner and a Gunner’s Mate.

Master Gunner: How now; are the charges ready?

Mate: Ready and willing; our powder is dry from these many months at sea.

Master: Thou jesteth; sea air makes no drouth.

Mate: Nay, but you are the jester; have you not seen when our men come ashore, how easy the flash sparks from their guns?

Master: Fool, here is no laughing matter. We make ready for such a battle as the world has not seen before; and thou speak’st of women? ‘Tis worthy of a soft Roman, not a warrior of the North.

Mate: I may jest; when saw you me shrink from battle? The pursuit of women suits well a soldier; unless ’tis football, no pastime is so like our warrior’s art.

Master: How reckon’st thou this?

Mate: Why, ’tis plain! (As he speaks, the seamen cease their work and crowd around to listen.) Consider : A woman is a fortress; an’ she be not taken by sudden assault, months may pass in the long siege. A strong commissariat doth the lover also require; when was woman wooed without gold and roses? Then, when the action’s joined, a most dextrous skill shall soon be drilled into the recruit; the man who uses not both hands will not see his second field. The ramrod’s use must the lover diligently study; and howsoever large a gun a man may boast – I speak here from experience – ’twill avail him naught, an’ he aim it wrong. The cock of a pistol, the rattle of balls delights both soldier and lover; but, an’ your halberd be not blocked by armour, your pleasure may be untimely cut short. But hark, the ship’s bell rings all hands on deck; our captain will address us.

Master: I hope his address may be as cheering as that which thou hast here expounded.

Exit all

Act I, Scene III

The ship’s deck. The Flag-Captain addresses the ranks.

Flag-Captain: Now shall the years of our oppression be turned to glorious rule by this present battle. Westward lies the foe, the Spaniard dog, secure in the tyranny of his multitude of ships. But as prosperous days may make man or country unfit for war, so have our pains taught us zeal for the work, and such a fleet as is now assembled did Norway never oppose to any foe. Beside us sail English warships; well do you know their strength who fought at Dogger Bank! But the idle Spaniard, who whiles away the days in pursuit of heathen women, shall this day come to rue the stab he gave us in that conflict. Vengeance, they say, is a dish best eaten cold; ten years have passed for the cooling of ours, and yet we shall serve it hot and sweet to our former ally. And we gain this victory, all the empire on which the sun never sets lies at our feet; the gold if the Incas, the dusky maidens of Africa, the pearls of the Orient : How shall these be defended, if we but conquer the Spanish fleet? Therefore, give no thought to aught but victory; your very mothers would spit on the son that came home defeated. Run out your guns! The foe approaches. A last word : If, in the heat of battle, a friend should stand before your gun’s mouth, in the path of the shot that will kill a Spaniard – spare not your fire. Each shot that strikes home to the death of a tyrant is victory enough. Go! Norway demands that every man shall do his duty today!

Gunner’s Mate (aside) : Why, I dare say I have never done less than my duty, nor has any man lived long, who accused me of it.

Master Gunner: Silence, fool! The foe draws nigh; And thou dost but continue in thy vaunted course, none shall reproach thee; why borrow trouble where none is intended? See to thy guns.

Exit all

Act II, Scene I The gundeck; cannon lie tumbled, and dying men are everywhere. Several beams lie shattered and broken; there is wild confusion. Enter the Master Gunner.

Master Gunner (stentorian): Avast, ye scurvy sea dogs! This disorder becomes not men of the north. (To a gunner) That cannon is spent; do thou tumble it overboard, that we may not stumble on’t. That task done, run thee to the magazine, and ask there why we lack powder; bring back a barrel, or thy back shall answer for it. (Seizing a man tending to a comrade) Leave him; his life’s his own, but thou canst yet kill a Spaniard; ’twere a service, an’ I am any judge, better than any thou hast yet rendered our fleet. Go thou, and join that crew that labours so mightily with their gun; thy strong back can remedy the death of their comrade.

Enter the Gunner’s Mate.

Master Gunner: How now, mate? what news of the battle?

Mate: As to that, I know not; this infernal smoke hides from me all but the closest foemen. But the Captain sends me to bring word: To port lies the Santissima Trinidad, of seventy-four; her gundeck is stove in, her mast broken. To starboard Francisco d’Assisi – only a Spaniard would name a man’o’war for such a saint – her colour flutters seaward. Victory rewards your sacrifice!

Wild cheering

Exit all

Act II, Scene II

The forecastle. The Admiral and his Flag-Captain stand with their officers; they discuss the battle with a Messenger.

Messenger: My lords, I bring word. The foe presses hard on our seaward flank; Conqueror and Colossus are taken, on Bellerophon the boarders hold fo’c’sle and gundeck. Here you hold victory firmly in your grasp; send us then such ships as you can spare, to our succour.

Flag-Captain: Shall Norwegian lives answer for English failings?

Messenger: An’ they do not, so may the God of Hosts help me, Norwegian cowardice must answer for Spanish victory.

Flag-Captain: Let it be even as you say; our ship is spent, her gundeck cleared twice over; what powder remains is taken from our vanquished foe. What help should we be on your flank?

Messenger: Then send others; has the pride and the power no ships to spare?

Admiral: Not a one; on our front all lie closely engaged, or beat away battered from the vanquished foe. I have myself seen three ships be lost to the ravening flame, when the foeman cleared their decks and the marine came aboard bearing torches.

Flag-Captain: And yet there are some –

Admiral (interrupting): Nay, speak not of that! Fight thy ship, good Captain, and leave to me the judgement of who shall be called to fight. Thy task is smaller than mine; seek not to look beyond its bounds, lest the burden prove too heavy. Come, we are victorious here; gather our sisters, good Hauk and powerful Fram, and let us to the aid of our allies.

Exit all

Act II, Scene III

Again the forecastle. Wounded officers lie groaning; a broken mast splits the scene in two. The Flag-Captain lies stricken; the Admiral holds his head.

Flag-Captain: I have fought my ship as well as a man may do; nor she, nor I can fight further.

Admiral: Yet we must; the foe comes ’round our seaward side, and our rear lies naked to his assault.

Flag-Captain: Do you then take arms with your pistol, against a man’o’war? For I warrant, ’tis the only firearm aboard that may yet do harm to a Spaniard, though he were only an aged dotard.

Admiral (casting wildly about for a solution): Nay, but cutlass and pike may yet win battles for old Norway; an Yngling is worth many a stril. Come, call for boarders, and let us away.

Flag-Captain: Shall we out oars, like a galley of old? A ship dismasted is like an elephant unlegged: It stays where ’tis put, whosoever shall command otherwise. Nay, m’lord, seek not in heaven for your answer; ’tis not to be found there. Only one thing may yet have the power to avert defeat; give but the order, and Long Serpent, Eidsvold, and Norge come to our aid.

Admiral (to himself): He is right; and yet, how shall I bear to call my sons to these straits? Nay, that is but cowardice speaking – manfully, Trygve; today many fathers’ sons have spilt their blood to the waters. The Power and the Pride, they call us in Bergen; such title is not lightly won – it must be taken at hazard. And after all they are only Spaniards; my sons command stout ships – surely they shall come through the danger. (Firmly; he has convinced himself.) Aye, it must be so. (To a Signaller) Ahoy, there : Send forth this message. Call Long Serpent, Eidsvold, and Norge to this flank.

Exit all

Act III, Scene II The gundeck; order is restored. The Master Gunner looks out of an open gunport; he speaks with the Gunner’s Mate.

Gunner’s Mate: We’ll take no further part of this action; no powder remains, either wet or dry.

Master Gunner: Aye; but we have fought well; victory or defeat, we have known no shame today.

Mate: ‘Tis in war as in love: When the battle’s over, you regret not its course, so be it that you stuck firm to your guns.

Master: Hush, fool, this battle’s not ended; I see the Lion Rampant through the fog.

Mate (aside): Aye; when ’tis not rampant, the battle’s ended indeed.

Master: Now I know the ship; ’tis the Long Serpent. An hundred and twenty guns; aye, and of the new calibre. Hark, her broadside – would I had unleashed such a power on my foes!

Mate: There are some ashore who have no cause to complain of my broadsides. I ween the Spaniard will take it less well.

Master: Here comes another; what name’s on her bow? The fog clears, I know her – ’tis Eidsvold, named for that city where the elders sit at Ting. Less deliberate than her namesake she! An hundred guns; her foretops glisten with musket barrels. Nay, now they burst forth in flame. I trow her victim knows her fury!

Mate: We’ve known fury enough today.

Master: Aye, and I rejoice to see it revisited. But look you, here comes yet another. I knew not we had such an arrow to our quiver.

Mate: I know an arrow that’s set many a lady a-quiver.

Master (ignoring him): A bonny sight – an hundred and forty guns if she has a one! I know but one such ship in any fleet; Norge it is, the fatherland’s ship!

Mate: From Finland I; ’tis a motherland where I’ve visited, allowing only I be nine months gone.

Master: There; they sally. Will the foe stand? Nay – they turn, they flee! There is no heart in them to face such power. A flag falls; another – the day is ours.

Mate: ‘Tis well; I trust I may then have many more nights for mine own.

Exit both

Act III, Scene III

The forecastle; the mast has been cleared, and the wounded removed. The Admiral holds colloquy with several Officers.

Admiral: What news?

1st Officer: The day is ours; three prizes have I taken. The landward flank lies strewn with wrecks.

2nd Officer: My ship has burnt; a prize I took, and therefrom fought. Two flags have struck to me this day.

3rd Officer: The foeman flees; a fair wind bears him north.

Admiral: It is well; but what of our seaward flank, where fight Long Serpent, Eidsvold, and Norge?

1st Officer: They have borne themselves well; the gap our foes there sought is now closed with their choking wreckage.

Admiral: And what of our ships?

2nd Officer: I saw Norge; battered, but unbowed. Her wounds were to the fore; Her captain, I heard, stood proud in the fo’c’sle until a scything broadside threw him down. Yet not unavenged went he to Valhall; Santa Anna is our prize, her crew fed to the sea.

Admiral (whispering): Aye… so be it her wounds were to the fore.

3rd Officer: Eidsvold, I know, lay alongside Monarca. A rolling broadside she laid on her target; the cowardly Spaniard could not reply. Yet too great was her fury; a fire, started in the Spaniard’s decks, soon spread; overmastering th’ embattled ships, it reached her powder. I saw no more.

Admiral (ashen): A fitting end for a man of war. Yet what… what news of the Long Serpent? What news of my youngest son?

1st Officer: Firm stands the Long Serpent. But fallen is Olav, Trygve’s son.

Admiral (bows his head): So I stand alone? Storm-ribbed? A bare-stripped tree, broken its branches.

2nd Officer: I fear me there is small comfort for such a case; yet recall, their wounds were always to the fore. They will have no mean place in Valhall.

Admiral: Aye, aye, you speak true. And we have today won such a victory as shall ring down the decades. And yet… O my sons!

Curtain falls.


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