Part 15: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 14"Boy, come here!" snapped Edward the Malevolent, King of Scotland, Ruler of the Scottish Empire, Pharaoh of Egypt, Master of Jerusalem, Vanquisher of armies, ravisher of women and killer of men.
And much loved Uncle.
"Aye, Uncle Edward," smiled Nectan Canmore,"You have duties for me?"
"Aye lad," growled Edward, his face harsh as he took Nectan's arm and lead him down the hall past the merrymakers and celebrants, two guards unlocking a solid looking door and letting them through. Stepping aside, Nectan was surprised not just his twin, Domnall, but his father, Prince Edmund the Honourable. King Edward closed the door behind him and his stern face broke into a beaming smile.
"We're going to get pissed!"
King Edward's daughter Afraig had married, and every Scottish person who mattered on this edge of the world had come to Cairo to celebrate. King Edward had spared no expense, and Alan of Midlothian was a fine man in his mind. Good at everything he put his mind to, a fair fighter and a proven commander from a good family, and most importantly, someone his daughter professed to love. So on the eve of Edward's planned Moorish campaign, the wedding had been held, and now with his daughter and new son retired for the night to do things Edward preferred not to think about; Edward meant to get good and drunk with his beloved Brother and his two fine nephews.
Nectan was loyal and bright, as a child he'd constantly questioned his tutors and mentors, forming his own opinions on subjects based on what information he could gather. He was also notoriously spartan in his lifestyle, he ate what he needed and drank hardly at all, was not interested in fine art, furnishings or lavish surroundings, and trained methodically in his military duties.
Domnall, on the other hand, was a distant introvert given to outbursts of sudden great cheer and comradeship, in which he would drink heavily, tell vulgar jokes that shocked even the ribald Edward, and merrily throw himself into brawls.
What both twins shared was a high intellect and a talent for command, and they were as close as Edward and Edmund had been after Edmund had grown old enough to become interesting. Both seemed to let their guards down around their Uncle though, who they had always enjoyed the company of, which had been less and less as the logistics of running the Scottish Empire had grown.
So tonight, with four Canmore's together in the same city, it was time to get drunk!
The next day, Edmund woke with a groan, clutching at his sore head. He shunted his chair away from the table and staggered to his feet with a belch. He swayed and cursed whatever ale they'd drunk last night, so potent that even now it seemed that the floor was rocking and rolling like a... like a.... like a boat!
"Oh God Edward, ye've nae put me on another boat, have ye?" he groaned,"Where are we going this time? Spain?"
"What are ye talking about," snapped Edward, rolling his head to the side and grunting,"We're nae on a boat."
"Aye, I'm just old," muttered Edmund, supporting himself on the wall and sniffing uncomfortably at his clothes,"As are ye, the drink never used to effect ye so much."
"I'm nae ready for the grave yet," chuckled Edward as he leaned back in his chair,"Look at ye wee bairns, there."
Edmund looked at the corner of the room, where both Nectan and Domnall were draped over tables dead to the world. He chuckled affectionately, his sons were grown men now, but it would be some time till they could match their Uncle's capacity for drink. His head thumped with a regular, booming rhythm and he grunted angrily, it seemed to be getting louder and louder, would it not stop.... and then he noticed that Edward was frowning and looking towards one of the thin windows, and he realized that the booming noise was coming from outside the city.
"To arms! To arms!" came a distant cry,"The city is under siege!"
At Caernarvon in Wales, Captain Aston of the English army stared from his walls at a similar predicament, but the sieging army in this case was Scottish. It was led by the cursed Arcill of Caithness, the adopted son of Feradac of Peeblesshire, the twice cursed Scottish bastard who'd taken Dublin while the thrice cursed Alexander Canmore sat in control of LONDON!
"I hate the Scottish," he growled,"The bastards won't be satisfied until England is but a memory."
"Arcill of Caithness, you say," whispered a quiet voice, and Captain Aston felt a chill run down his spine. With the death of King Rufus, Symund had been named King of England, and his dealings with the Scottish had been so disastrously handled that the Pope had excommunicated him, removing the Church's protection from the people of England.... but not the Church's reach. Captain Aston turned and looked at the red robed figure.
"Arcill of Caithness," repeated Albizus de Alario, Inquisitor for the Catholic Church,"Tell me of him."
Against all reason, Sicily had declared war on Scotland.
It was unfathomable, the act of madmen, but those who had known Sicilians knew that was a fair description. They were tough and they were fighters, much like the Scottish, but unlike the Scots when they were angry their blood ran cold instead of hot, and some said that made them more dangerous.
They had marched to Cairo from a city far along the Western Coastline and laid siege, and they had come in large numbers, easily the match of the numbers inside the city itself, of which a full third were simple militia trained to keep the peace on the streets.
Cairo was a large city, well fortified and easily defended, but the Sicilians had marched prepared for war, and even now they sat outside the city making preparations to attack. Highlanders, militia and Sudanese mercenaries held the walls, staring uneasily down at the milling Sicilians as they prepared massive siege ladders, battering rams and what looked to be a giant siege tower. None of them was scared to go to battle with the Sicilians, but was it a battle they could win? No Scotsman feared death, but none of them embraced it either, and the army milling about below them was death.
And then Death walked out onto the walls.
King Edward the Malevolent, 52 years old and looking more powerful than he'd looked in his life, known for his tyranny on the field and his pure, relentless drive to conquer in the name of God and Scotland. He walked amongst his men without a word, face set like stone and eyes unreadable. Oddly for the King, he wore a kilt today, but the reason for this soon became clear.
"I see children running about beneath me, lads!" he cried suddenly, his voice booming and carrying to the Sicilians below, who stopped and looked up in surprise at the figure far above them,"Boys who think they can be men!"
King Edward stared at the Sicilians, satisfied that he had their attention.
"So ye've come to fight Scottish men, have ye?" he roared,"Come mewling and crawling from between ye whore mothers' legs in hopes of proving ye manhood and then crawling back home to get between ye whore mothers' legs again!?!?"
Edward's men roared with laughter, and the Sicilian Captain, Gano, narrowed his eyes furiously.
"All maybe I have ye all wrong?" laughed Edward,"Maybe ye've nae come hoping for a whiff of the treat between a Scottish woman's legs, but to satisfy ye filthy lust for arse? Have ye come hoping for some of this?"
He turned and bent, flipping up his kilt and revealing a bared ass beneath, causing his men to let loose a massive cheer as they roared with laughter. Captain Gano was infuriated, and turning to a bowman he hissed at the man to fire at Edward. The Sicilian nodded, as mad as every other Sicilian to hear their mother's called whores, regardless of anything else said. He nocked an arrow, aimed high and fired, and the arrow sailed through the air, arced and fell down, hitting the stone wall of Cairo 20 yards below where Edward stood. The King twisted and stood, a massive grin on his face as he shouted,"Ye see lads! We've all heard tell that Sicilian shafts falter before they can make their target, now we know!"
His men roared with laughter, and Edward walked away from the walls with a grin.
The next day, the men stood at the walls watching the Sicilians working on their siege equipment once more, when once more a Scottish Royal walked the wall. Prince Edmund walked to the edge of the wall and stared down at the Sicilians with a critical eye, and then with a voice that surprisingly carried as well as his Brother's, he spoke,"When my Brother and I left Scotland, our Father held Edinburgh and York and that wall. Together we took Alexandria, then we took Jerusalem, then we took this magnificent city, Cairo. He conquered Baghdad, Damascus, Antioch and Adana, Jedda and Gaza. We put an end to an Egyptian Empire that has lasted since time immemorial, none could stand before us and those that tried died. We made Scotland the mightiest Empire in the world, and then our brother Alexander returned to Scotland where the English threatened to conquer our Father's old home, and he threw back the English Empire, recaptured Inverness, captured Nottingham and Dublin and took England's beloved London from them, because we wanted it."
Edward paused, letting this all sink in,"When Scotland wants something, we take it. When people oppose us, they die. When nations defy us, we wipe them out. Scotland's armies have always been led by our Royals, Clan Canmore fights at the head of any force we care to muster. Think of that, Sicilians, while your Nobles sit at home and leave you to die at the hands of the Scottish."
His men cheering, he turned and walked away from the walls.
The next day, Prince Nectan Canmore walked onto the walls, watched with great surprise by the Scots manning them. The Sicilians seemed ready this time, a number of them had been taken off working on siege equipment to jeer and taunt any Scottish Noble who came to mock them. If Nectan seemed at all taken aback by the jeers, he gave no sign, merely casting a critical eye over the assembled force before giving voice to his thoughts.
"It strikes me that I am a disappointment!" he cried, his young voice carrying well but bearing none of the authority or dominance of Edward or Edmund,"I am but a lad, 17 and untested in battle, a mere bairn! Ye could count on one hand the number of women I've bedded, and on no hands the number of men I've killed! Were I to go to battle, I would be the rawest of recruits, the poorest Pikeman, the mildest of militia...."
The Sicilians taunting had stopped, because there was nothing they could say that Nectan wasn't all ready saying to them. They all stood and listened as Nectan ran himself down, talking of his inexperience and lack of ability as opposed to other men.... and then it happened.
"So I look around at the men who stand these walls with me!" cried Nectan, doing just that, seeing men staring at him with wide eyes and concerned faces,"And I realize..... it dinnae matter! BECAUSE EVEN AN INEXPERIENCED SCOTTISH BAIRN IS TWICE THE MAN ANY SICILIAN EVER WILL BE!"
His men blinked in surprise, then roared their approval as, with a grin, Prince Nectan walked away from the walls.
The next day, King Edward returned to the walls, and his men - waiting eagerly by this point - roared and cheered, giving cue to the Sicilians that he as there. He stepped up to the edge of the wall and stared down at the gathered Sicilians, and then let loose with a blood-chilling roar that shocked even his own men.
"ENOUGH!" he roared,"YE ARE STILL HERE? THEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! TOMORROW I LED MY MEN OUT OF THE WALLS INTO YE MIDST! I WILL RIDE THROUGH YE AS IF YE WERE WATER! I WILL CUT YE DOWN AS IF YE WERE WHEAT AND I A SCYTHE! I WILL BRING DEATH AND HELL WITH ME, MY BROTHER AND NEPHEW AT MY SIDE, MY MEN BEHIND ME, SCOTLAND WILL RIDE OVER YE AND YE'LL DIE! AYE, AND THEN YE'LL RUN, AND I WILL CHASE YE, AND EVEN IF YE FLED OVER THE OCEANS I WOULD COME FOR YE, AND YE'D HIDE BEHIND YE WALLS AND I WILL STILL COME, AND KILL YE, YE WIVES, YE CHILDREN, YE ANIMALS, AND I'D TEAR DOWN YE HOMES, AND BURN THE TREES AND GRASS AND SALT THE EARTH, AND STILL MY FURY WILL NAE BE QUENCHED! YE WILL HAVE UNLEASHED DEATH ON YE AND EVERYTHING YE LOVE, AND THE FAULT WILL BE ALL YE OWN!"
"NOW. GET. OUT. OF. MY. EMPIRE!"
And as his men stared in shock at their King, he turned and walked away from the walls.
The next day.... the Sicilians had broken their siege and disappeared into the desert.
Arcill of Caithness screamed as he was dragged through the crowd, the stake waiting for him, the red robed figure he'd come to hate standing waiting. Albizus de Alario had walked through the gates of Caernarvon despite the city being under siege, walked into Arcill's camp despite them being prepared to attack the City, and promptly ordered a trial for heresy. Arcill had been shocked, he'd always attended Church.... well, religiously.... but never given much thought to spirituality. It had been merely another one of the many duties he felt compelled to undertake due to his position as a Nobleman, but surely he'd always done that duty well, how could anyone suspect him of heresy. But Albizus was a fiend, a terrible mind-reader who merely looked at him and [b]knew[b] all of his secrets. This was not like the Priests of Arcill's youth who were happy if you could recite passages from the Bible, sing hymns, and answer prayers in all the right places. He questioned and probed and trapped Arcill in unintentional contradiction, and worst of all was that all of Arcill's men, including long standing friends and loyal Commanders, stood back and allowed it to happen.
And he'd been found guilty.
"Arcill of Caithness, son of Feradac of Peeblesshire," bellowed Albizus, his voice projected for the crowd and nothing like the usual harsh whisper he used in regular conversation,"You have been found guilty of heresy against the Church, the Pope and God! You mistook your nobility as an acceptable substitute for piety, but God was not fooled and neither was I! The punishment for this heresy is death, may God have mercy on your wretched, heretic soul!"
"WAIT! WAIT! NO!" screamed Arcill as Albizus grasped a flaming torch and approached him where he was tied to the stake,"I DID NAE MEAN TO SIN! PLEASE I BEG FORGIVENESS!"
"Forgiveness is not for me to give," Albizus replied in his usual whisper, and touched the torch to the gathered wood.
Feradac of Peeblesshire was marching at the head of his men down the road when the call came back from the scouts that someone was waiting for him ahead. He continued on and came to a crossroads, and was not surprised when he saw the red robed figure who had killed his adopted son was the one waiting for him.
"Feradac of Peeblesshire, on God's business," grinned Albizus, staring at the cross on the Scottish banner carried by the army,"Called to the Crusade in Toulouse."
"Volunteered for the Crusade in Toulouse," corrected Feradac,"We are both on the Pope's business, Inquisitor."
"I suspect your business will be delayed slightly at Caernarvon?" smirked Albizus, and Feradac swallowed his anger and urge to make a biting retort. He knew Albizus' reputation, in fact he knew more about Albizus than the Inquisitor might suspect. He knew that Albizus put on a mocking, sarcastic act to goad men into making foolish comments, but that it was only a facade. The man was fanatically devoted to the Church, and was above and beyond reproach in all respects. He did not gamble, drink, indulge in food, women, men, girls, boys or animals. He had burned both friend and foe for heresy, his only thought was working for the betterment of the Church, by destroying heresy wherever he found it. He'd killed Arcill, yes, but there had been nothing personal in it, just Arcill being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Somehow, that made it worse.
"England remains excommunicated, and Scotland has proved itself time and again to be an agent of the Church," Feradac said at last,"We will take Caernarvon from the English and bring Wales into the Catholic fold before we go to face the Milanese at Toulouse."
"Go about God's work, Scotsman," smiled Albizus,"I stopped you only because I wanted to be sure you were not like some foolish people I have known, who have blamed an Inquisitor for protecting God and the Church from heretics."
"God bless ye, Inquisitor," replied Feradac stiffly, and ordered his army to continue forward again, the Inquisitor standing and watching the army pass, nodding a greeting to the Pilgrims and Religious Fanatics who made up a large portion of the force. Finally they were all past, and Albizus continued on down the road on foot, content and secure in the knowledge that he would be given welcome at whatever home, inn, castle or city he came to before nightfall.
Albizus woke groggily, trying to remember, something had happened, something.... something was.... his hands weren't working properly, he.... what?
"Awake are we? Good," whispered a voice, and Albizus felt a chill run down his spine, that voice... it was the voice of the Devil!
He struggled to open his eyes, his vision focusing on the small campfire that provided the only light. It was night, clouds obscuring the stars, and they were in a clearing, one he dimly remembered entering as the afternoon had been darkening into dusk.... and then everything had gone black. Kneeling near the fire, back turned to Albizus, was a tall, thin hooded figure dressed darkly, a long, curved dagger on his side. He stood up, seeming to unfold more than stand, and turned to saunter up to Albizus, who by now had realized that he was tied to something, his arms and legs bound.
"Are you mad," growled Albizus,"Do you know who I...."
He was cut off as the man backhanded him, hand moving like lightning, shocking the Inquisitor who hadn't been physically beaten since he was a boy.
"I know who ye are," growled the shadowy figure,"That's why ye are to die, ye fool. Burning a Scotsman leading a siege on the English... and ye thought ye could get away with it?"
"I act on God's behalf!" roared Albizus, horrified,"I don't favor any one nation or..."
"Oh shut up," grunted the figure, sounding bored,"Nobleman, King, Merchant, Diplomat, Farmer, Inquisitor, it all comes to the same thing at the end, they all try to convince me they dinnae deserve to die. Well sometimes they do and sometimes they dinnae.... ye definitely do."
He sauntered back to the campfire and lifted a flaming torch from the fire, turning back and walking towards Albizus, who by now had realized what he'd been tied to.
"You can't!" he cried,"I'm an Inquisitor for the Catholic Church..... you'll.... you'll burn in hell for this!"
The Assassin - Fearghus Maknab - suddenly stopped, looking taken aback, and then he started to laugh. He laughed for a good long time, a hearty and hale laugh that spoke of good health and good humor. Finally he stopped, and smiled warmly at Albizus.
"Oh ye silly man, I've been bound for hell since I was a wee lad and killed my first.... killing ye will hardly make a difference one way or the other."
Albizus de Alario began to scream, and then he screamed louder, and then after some time, he screamed no more.