Written by Sir John M——, from his own journals.
The Second Day: A Great Naval Engagement, in Which the Leviathan Wins a Glorious Victory Over the Entire Fleet of the Mad Earl of Deira.
ON THE MORROW I woke early, as the reddish rays of dawn were streaming into my chamber. Aelfric had procured some excellent pastries from a baker’s shop nearby; I had just finished a simple but satisfying breakfast when a messenger arrived summoning me to the Duke’s presence again. A carriage was waiting for me, and I was told it was a matter of some urgency.
This morning the trip took less time, since there were no milling crowds to part. All the way I wondered whether the Duke would remember why he summoned me, or whether once again I should be dismissed after a few short pleasantries.
“Ah! Sir John,” the Duke greeted me in his drawing-room. “The man of the hour, as one might say. I believe we may have met once before.”
“Yes indeed, your grace,” I replied. “Yesterday, in this very room.”
“Ah, yes, that must have been it. I never forget a face. Well, Sir John, someone told me that you were pretty good at languages.”
“Yes, your grace.”
“Splendid. We’ll need that. More to the point, we need it right now. Are you at all familiar with the peculiar dialect they speak in Deira?”
I chose my words carefully: I did not wish the Duke to suppose that I was accusing him of ignorance. “As far as I know, your grace, the language is little different from our own, though spoken with a more pronounced accent.”
“Yes, that was precisely what I had always thought. But the thing is, you see, early this morning a little boat hailed us, and we can’t make heads or tails of what the fellows are trying to say. We sat them down in my library—that’s where they are now—and gave them something to nibble on. Pleasantest fellows you can imagine, but they seem to talk absolute gibberish. I could make out that they were from Deira well enough, but after that nothing.”
“I should be happy to place my own small skill at your disposal,” I said, “although I cannot warrant you that I shall have any more success than your grace had.”
“Well, we can give it a try, can’t we?” the Duke responded cheerfully. He led me to his library, which was singularly free of books but was furnished with a pair of scruffy sailors. The Duke spoke to them slowly and loudly, as though they were deaf children.
“We are honored to make your acquaintance, Sir John,” said one of the sailors. He might have had a trace of an accent, but otherwise his command of our language was perfect. I hardly knew what to say next.
“His grace the Duke has asked me to inquire what you would like from us,” I told the two men.
“Oh, yes,” said the one who had spoken before. “In the name of his highness the Earl of Deira, we demand the unconditional surrender of your vessel.”
The Duke leaned toward me. “You see what I mean,” he said in a confidential undertone. “It sounds as though they’re saying something about unconditional surrender, but I know that can’t be right.”
“Let us assume for the moment that it is what they said,” I told the Duke. Then I turned back to the sailors. “And what,” I asked, “will be the consequences if we refuse to surrender?”
“Then you will face the wrath of the entire Deiran navy.”
“I see. And just what sort of navy is this we shall have to face?”
“Well, sir,” said the sailor, “you can see our ship from this window.”
The window he indicated had a view of the sea, and through it I could see a rickety little vessel with two masts. It might have carried a dozen sailors; certainly no more.
“I think I see it,” I said, peering out the window. Then I turned to face our guests. “And is that a fair example of the ships that make up the Deiran navy?”
“No, sir,” the sailor who did all the speaking answered. “That is the Deiran navy.”
“You mean that is the only ship in your navy?”
“The only one,” the sailor admitted.
“I see. Were you aware that there are more than two thousand men on board our Leviathan, not to mention the women and children?”
“We were not aware of the exact figures, but we did have an approximate idea.”
“Well, then, what would you say if I told you that we are not prepared to surrender?”
“We should hardly be surprised,” the sailor answered.
Now the other Deiran sailor spoke for the first time. “The fact is, Admiral Ecgfrith” (he indicated his companion) “and I had orders from the Earl to capture your Leviathan. Well, they don’t call him the Mad Earl of Deira for no reason. So Admiral Ecgfrith and I knew better than to question his orders. We’ve obeyed, and here we are, and it is under such circumstances that we demand the surrender of your vessel.”
“I see,” I said. I turned to the Duke, who had evidently been paying no attention to our conversation. “They demand the unconditional surrender of our Leviathan,” I informed him.
“Never!” cried the Duke. “We’ll die to the last man first!”
“You have your answer,” I told the sailors.
“Ah, well,” Admiral Ecgfrith responded. “We expected no better. But I wonder if we might ask a favor of you.”
Now that I knew something of his plight, I felt a twinge of pity for the bedraggled admiral. “Anything within reason,” I answered.
“Do you suppose you could threaten us a little? The Earl might be more lenient with us if we tell him we faced overwhelming opposition.”
It seemed a reasonable request under the circumstances. I conveyed it to the Duke, who persisted in believing that he could not comprehend the Deirans’ language and needed me to translate. It took some explaining to make the Duke understand the reason for the request, but once he understood he was not unwilling to comply.
“Well, then,” he said after some thought, “tell them they must depart from our Leviathan at once or—or I shall thrash them.”
The Deirans politely objected that the Duke’s threat did not seem overwhelming enough. After all, they pointed out, the Duke was but one man, whereas there were ten of the Deirans all told, including the eight who remained on their ship.
I saw no reason to annoy the Duke with these small details: it seemed to me that I was perfectly capable of handling the matter myself. “Then report to your Earl,” I told the Deirans, “that we had more than two thousand men at arms, and that, if you had refused to leave, we should have divided our forces and assigned two hundred men to thrash each individual Deiran on your vessel, with a few dozen men held back in reserve in case any of the first group should weary themselves with thrashing. Will that be suitable?”
The Deirans assured me that it would be, and they thanked me heartily for my kindness. I sent them off with the Duke’s compliments, and they rowed back to their little ship.
The rest of the day was uneventful. In the evening I dined with Lord Darkwood and his wife. Lady Darkwood is a cheerful soul, and her conversation is always worth recording. However, her husband dominated the conversation this evening, and his conversation is always gloomy, without wither wit or perception. I came to bed late and considered the evening wasted.