Part 20: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 19"So," said Aodh Canmore, youngest son of Prince Edmund Canmore,"This is war?"
"Oh no, brother," chuckled Nectan,"This.... this will be a massacre."
The Scottish armies were on the move, Scots in their thousands moving North through the desert towards the Turkish border, or rather what had once been the Turkish border. The Mongols had invaded Turkey, and the latter Nation's leaders had quickly discovered that the Horde was anything but "a group of bandits surrounded by reputation and superstition". Now the Turks were locked in a life or death struggle with the invaders, and King Edward knew the time to stop the Mongols was now, before they took control of too much land.
King Edward, Prince Edmund and Prince Domnall were several days ride ahead, uniting their armies with Prince Comgell. Prince Nectan was riding with Prince Aodh, the latter ready and eager to experience battle for the first time and the former having no desire to see it again.
They had received news of a sizeable rebel force moving through the desert two days earlier, and Nectan had diverted to attack them. The rebels would be no match for the Scottish, but it would give Aodh a taste of what battle was really like outside of the songs.
"They're just.... standing there!" grunted Aodh, sounding offended as he waved his arm at the rebels on the desert ridge overlooking their approaching army.
"What would ye have them do, brother?" laughed Nectan,"Leap from the ridge and catch the wind? Fly down spears drawn and fire breathing from their mouths as they roar death upon us? This is battle, it is the desert, it's hot and they're in no hurry to die... there'll be time for that soon enough."
"Forward now," ordered Nectan in a loud voice,"Slow and steady lads, let's nae work up a sweat!"
The men laughed and began marching through the sand, Nectan and Aodh following with their cavalry in tow. The Rebels maintained a rough line on the higher ground, which technically should have given them the advantage in the upcoming battle. But even Aodh could see their armor was buckled, shabby and on the verge of falling apart, their swords, pikes and spears barely holding together. This rabble's true weapon was their size, which kept them safe from bandits, but not a well trained, well armored army of Scotsmen.
"It all seems so.... civilized!" grunted Aodh, watching as the Scots marched forward and the nervous Rebels held their line and waited for the inevitable clash.
"That'll change soon enough," replied Nectan with a smile,"They know their death is coming."
"Then why do they make a stand?" asked Aodh, confused,"They know they cannae beat us, why do they not run?"
"They know we'll chase them down, at least this way they can stand together, die together, and take some of us with them," Nectan explained patiently,"Plus there is always that thought at the back of the head that says, no matter what, that somehow they'll find a way to live through this."
And then the time for talk was done, and the battle was joined.
The leader of the Rebels, Captain al Adid, watched as his men were brutally slaughtered by the Scottish, and gritted his teeth angrily. They had no choice but to fight, and no chance but to die, but all ready he could see his men breaking and running in terror, simply making themselves easier pickings for the Scottish to kill off.
"RIDE!" he shouted to the rest of his cavalry, sitting on their malnourished mounts,"Into their flank, block them from the men and give those running time.... maybe some will live."
"Brave," muttered Nectan, watching,"But foolish, do ye see the difference between nobility and bravery, Aodh?"
"Hmmm?" asked Aodh, watching the battle unfolding in fascination.
"A brave leader will die with his men," Nectan explained,"A noble leader will do his best to keep him and his men alive.... ahhh, and there we see my point proven."
"Now ye see the dirty side of battle, Aodh," smiled Nectan, not unkindly,"We've sat out horses and watched our infantry kill for us. Now the enemy infantry runs, broken by the death of their Captain. If we let them go, they may reform and return to harass us at a later date. So we ride after them, and we ride them down, and we kill men who are running with no thought but to live another second, and then another, and we take all those seconds from them. We are death, Aodh, and we show no mercy."
Nectan spurred his horse on and his men followed, and Aodh gulped heavily and then followed, forcing his stomach down as he accepted what was his duty as a Prince of Scotland.
Prince Alexander Canmore read the message, gritting his teeth and gripping furiously to the paper it was written on.
"Treacherous bastards," he hissed,"Those treacherous, unthinking bastards!"
"My Lord?" asked his Advisor, Ewen.
"Milan has laid siege to Rennes, which barely has any garrison to speak of."
"Why would Milan risk the Pope's wrath?" asked Ewen, perplexed,"Their position is not a strong one, and besides, Lord Feradac sits with a sizeable force only a few days ride away in Caen."
"THE ENGLISH!" growled Alexander, furious,"Obviously what money and titles the English have left have been used to bribe the Milanese, because the bastard English have gathered up the bulk of their remaining forces and laid siege to Caen."
"With the current civil unrest in London and Edinburgh," noted Ewen,"They know Rennes and Caen stand alone, and hope to take the cities along the former French Coast from us. But they have erred, my Lord, Feradac is a fine Commander and well known for his talent for battle. We may lose Rennes, but Caen will stand, and once the English force there is decimated, we can answer the Milanese's insult."
"I dinnae like the idea of abandoning good Scottish men to Milan," growled Alexander,"I fought with many of those men in the sack of Nottingham, duty in Rennes was their reward for lifelong service to Scotland."
"Perhaps Feradac will...." started Ewen, but was interrupted by the arrival of another messenger. Alexander took the message and read it, and Ewen was startled to see his face turn red as his eyes narrows and more and more teeth were exposed by a vicious snarl. He handed the message curtly to Ewen and stalked off to stare out a window, as Ewen read the note in horror.
Feradac had been found dead in is chambers in Caen, assassinated!
"This is unbelievable!" gasped Ewen in horror,"My Lord, what are we to..... My Lord?"
Alexander's shoulders had been hunching up and his hands had been closed into fists, but as Ewen had spoken, his shoulders had relaxed and his fists uncurled, and when he turned to face Ewen, the Advisor was surprised to see Alexander appeared.... calm.
"I know what I must do," Alexander said, and smiled.
Captain Donnchadh had fought and killed English at Nottingham, and helped take the city. He was close to fifty now, and feeling every year of it in his bones in this cold Winter weather, but he loved Rennes, and was willing to die to hold it against Scotland's enemies.
Now it seemed he had his chance.
"Hold here, men, we can't keep them from the walls!" he ordered, close to 1200 men standing prepared behind the gates to the City. Milan had sent only 1000, but the 1000 they had sent.....
Close to 100 Milanese manned six massive catapults and another 400 were lined up with crossbows in front of them. Between the crossbow men and the catapults were Spearmen, and behind the catapults the Milanese Captain, Francesco, had another 150 Spearmen. Donnchadh cursed their lack of Cavalry, with a few hundred horse they could have torn through the catapult operators and retreated fast enough to cut down losses, then sent in the infantry. In a one on one confrontation, Donnchadh had no doubt that the Scottish would decimate the Milanese, but without them.....
Donnchadh stood waiting with his men behind the gate, waiting and bracing for the smash of catapult rocks against the walls, and he waited.... and waited.... and waited.
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded,"THE TOWER? WHAT IS HAPPENING?"
From the Gate Towers where old soldiers too infirm to fight sat with bow and arrow ready to fire on any Milanese who came too close came silence, and then a quavery reply,"The bastards are nae doing anything, they're just sitting there!"
"What in God's name?" growled Donnchadh, then turned to his men,"Then we wait too, they want us? They'll have to come and get us!"
So they waited, waited inside the walls of the deathly quiet city for the soldiers of Milan to attack, for their catapults to begin firing, and they waited for hours, and the Milanese made no move, did not come forward to taunt and challenge, did not split their forces or come all at once. They simply stood, the adjusting of individual soldiers' stances the only sign they were anything more than statues.
Then finally, something happened, but it wasn't what anyone expected.
Prince Alexander Canmore arrived.
"My Lord!?!" gasped Donnchadh, gripping Alexander's proffered hand with astonishment, forgetting for the moment he should be bowing,"What are ye.... how are ye....?"
"I could nae leave the brave men of Rennes to face these Milanese bastards alone now, could I!" laughed Alexander, loud enough for the men to hear, and they cheered. Donnchadh had fought beside Alexander many times, and even dined at banquets and spoken with the men freely enough, Alexander was a merry man when in his cups, and got on well with the common soldier. But now, his Prince seemed almost serene, abnormally calm considering the situation. He'd travelled by boat through seas ruled by the still powerful English Navy, landing on the coast and effectively stranding him and the men he had brought with him at Rennes. There could be no retreat, they would either hold Rennes or they would die trying.... but Alexander did not seem concerned, even when the seemingly impregnable nature of the enemy formation was explained to him, as well as their preternatural stillness.
"If they will nae come to us, we must go to them," Alexander said,"They hope to drag us out of the City and hold us on the field, we must ride into them and draw them back into the city, where we can wipe them out a piece at a time. There will be death, but that is nothing new to any Scottish fighting man."
"My Lord," said Donnchadh, bowing his head,"I will lead the men into the field."
Alexander raised an eyebrow, and Donnchadh spoke quickly, before his Prince could over-ride him.
"We lack cavalry beyond your bodyguard, my Lord, and if you rode out the Milanese would swarm over you beyond our ability to defend. If you were to fall in battle, the men would lose heart, your presence alone here keeps them brave."
"They are Scotsmen, that makes them brave," corrected Alexander, still looking serene,"But aye, ye shall lead the men. Dinnae die, Donnchadh, ye are a good drinking companion, and a good man besides. Draw them back to the City Walls, then we will deal to them."
Donnchadh saluted, and then lead him men out through the gates of the city, and discovered quickly that the Milanese definitely were NOT statues.
Milanese died, but many more Scottish died in the process. Milan had finally found a way to match the infamous ferocity and bloodlust of the Scottish, by pitching them not against men, but a flood of crossbow bolts and the high velocity impact of massive flaming rocks fired from catapults. Scots died in scores, burning and screaming, whole frontlines falling to fired crossbows.... but they kept coming, leaping over their dead to clash with the Milanese, and to revisit death upon them.
"ENOUGH!" roared Donnchadh,"Back to the walls, drag the bastards back with ye!"
They charged back, hearing the roar and smash of the catapult rocks slamming into the ground near them as they moved at full speed, back through the gates where the rest of the Scottish army waited, ready to slam into the Milanese.
But the Milanese never came.
To the horror of the Scottish, once they had moved back through the gates, the Milanese simply seemed to stop, then march quickly back into their pre-battle formations. Once back in position, they stood still and waited, seemingly statues once more.
"Madness," gasped Donnchadh.
"Any man is mad who would go to war with Scotland," replied Alexander, again calm despite the failure of their plan,"We cannae hold here and wait for them, and they know it. The siege of Caen means no help is coming, the ocean to the West and North is controlled by England, and Milan holds the South, Rennes simply cannae survive for long with that army there.... we must ride out again, and try once more to pull them back to the city."
Donnchadh did not believe the plan would be any more successful this time, but he agreed with Alexander's assessment. They could not simply wait inside the city for Milan to come to them, they had to take the fight to them... but they were likely to be wiped out in doing so, due to the damned catapults. Donnchadh did not fear death, as a soldier he'd made his peace a long time ago, and all ready lived far longer than he expected. What he did regret though, was that Alexander had come to the City out of a feeling of duty to them, and now it seemed this could be his last stand as well.... and yet, the Prince remained calm.
"Follow me lads, it seems these Milanese bastards need to be taught that a war means actually fighting! Shall we teach them!" Donnchadh roared, and felt his heart swell with pride as the Scottish roared and followed him without hesitation. As he moved out through the gates, he looked back and saw Alexander calmly sitting his horse, a serene look upon his face, and felt a burst of love for the men. Truly he was blessed to have such a man as his Prince.
He never saw Alexander again.
With the death of their Captain, and massive losses amongst their units, the Scotsmen broke and ran, forgetting their original plan to try and draw the Milanese back, simply desperate in their panic for the relative safety of the walls.
But despite the fleeing of their enemies, and the massive cost in lives both to themselves and Scotland, the Milanese simply moved back into formation once the battle was broken off, and went back to their eerie, preternatural waiting game.
Prince Adam Canmore took the message without a second thought until noticing peripherally that it was marked with the seal of his father. Smiling, he waved away a servant who was pouring him wine and cut the message open, reading the contents with growing alarm.
My beloved son,
As you read this, I am likely dead. I will not say that you should not mourn for me, only that you should know that I died on my own terms, and was glad of it.
As I neared my Father's final age, I came to realize how much of his long life he wasted. A once mighty warrior, reduced to sitting in a castle fighting diplomatic wars, bureaucratic wars and political wars. I finally come to the full realization of why Edward and Edmund abandoned Scotland, and saw what I was in danger of becoming, which oddly enough was what I'd always wanted to be, my Father.
The thought that cheered me was you, Adam, my truly beloved son. Unlike my Father, I pride myself on having raised a lad who not only surpassed me, but loved me. You have made me proud, Adam, and left me safe in the knowledge that when I die, a true King of Scotland will rule these lands, no matter if the title passes from Edward to Edmund's brood.
I could not let the men who had served me throughout my life die at the hands of Milan, but I could not save them, either. All that was left for me was to die with them, and to die in battle, a true soldier, as I always longed to be. Edward was supposed to be the General, Edmund was supposed to be the Governor, David was supposed to be the Prodigy, and I was supposed to be the Soldier. So I have gone to almost inevitable death, Adam, but I have gone with a glad heart.
Forgive me for leaving you, my son
Your Father, Alexander Canmore.
Alexander sat his horse in Renne's town square, listening to the Scots talk of Milan as they had always been spoken of. They were not human, but devils sent from hell, demons with the patience of statues, who needed no food or sleep. He listened, and waited for the swell of panic to rise almost, to breaking point, and then he cried out in a voice that crackled with authority and silenced them all.
"I thought I came to Rennes to fight for Scotsmen!" he roared, voice dripping with contempt,"But maybe I was wrong, maybe the English still rule this city, since ye appear to have water in your veins, not blood!"
He had their attention now, and struck, knowing it was now or never.
"The Milanese stand outside our city not because they are demons or statues, but because they FEAR DEATH IN THIS CITY! They know that if they enter, we will destroy them! So they sit outside, and when we bring death to them, they use machines to fire huge rocks, they use crossbows to fight from a distance... because they FEAR US!"
He turned his horse, raising his sword high,"So I say, let us ride out to them, let us ride through their rocks and crossbows, and ride into them with our swords swinging and our spears stabbing. They will kill Scotsmen? Well they must learn that death comes to all those who would battle the Scottish, whether we win or lose, death rides with us! LET US SHOW THEM WAR! REAL WAR! LET US SHOW THEM DEATH! LET US SHOW THEM HOW REAL MEN FACE DEATH AND MAKE THEM SPEAK FOREVER OF THE COURAGE OF SCOTLAND!"
His men, faces fervent and eyes blazing with fanaticism, let loose with a massive roar of assent. The cry reached outside to the waiting Milanese, who exchanged concerned looks.... what were the devils up to now?
And inside the city, Prince Alexander Canmore led his men into battle a final time.