Part 21: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 20Gille Petair of Ross-Shire had always been happy as a follower, or at least as happy as any true Scotsman could be when being told what to do. Feradac of Peeblesshire was a man he had been proud to follow, an accomplished General and true leader of men, but now he was dead, assassinated by cowards too scared to face him on the field. He did not suspect the English, what was left of their leaders had fallen far from the tree that had been William the Conqueror, but rather Milan, which had taken Rennes and killed Prince Alexander Canmore. Assassination seemed likely from those cowards, reports said they'd been too scared to ride into Rennes, too scared to meet the Scottish from anything but a distance, and even after they'd wiped out Alexander and his army they'd been too scared to enter the city until the night had passed and they were sure there were no more Scots left to stand against them.
But the English WERE Gille's problem.
Over 1700 English, almost the entire bulk of England's remaining forces, laid siege to Caen, almost doubling Gille's own forces. What made matters worse (and further added to Gille's belief that Milan was behind Feradac's assassination) was that England had borrowed Milan's strategy at Rennes, and brought with them not only battering rams, ballista, siege towers and ladders, , but catapults.
Gille sat his horse behind the walls of Caen, checking his men were ready, giving a word here and there, sharing a joke, making an order. He had always been happy as a follower, but he had also always had a talent for leading, and the other Commanders of Feradac's men had been quick to choose him as their new leader.
"CATAPULTS AIMING!" cried a lookout on the walls suddenly, catching Gille by surprise. A winter storm had been gathering and looked ready to set it, and he hadn't expected the assault from the English to come tonight.
"GET THOSE MEN OFF THE WALLS!" he screamed, staring up at the soldiers who had been stationed on the wall more as a display. He heard the massive thudding noise of the catapults releasing, and watched through clenched teeth as soldiers streamed down the Gate Tower towards the ground.... and then the ground was shaking, the wall shattering beneath multiple impacts as the English used the catapults to maximum impact, all artillery fire focused at one point on the wall.
And the wall came down.
And Gille saw his chance.
He'd always been happy to follow, and he'd always had a talent for leading. More than that, from a young age he'd had a talent for improvisation and opportunism, and he showed it now as the wall came down and smoke and dust rose up, obscuring the massive hole in the wall AND the men behind it.
"HORSE!" he cried,"I WANT THOSE CATAPULTS REMOVED FROM THE FIELD, AND WANT THEM GONE NOW!"
To their credit, the men struggling to bring their frightened horses under control heard his command and instantly turned towards the hole in the wall and spurred their horses forward. They charged through the debris and stone, over the dead men who hadn't vacated the wall in time, and emerged through the smoke with their heads down and swords drawn. The English were all ready turning to concentrate on their next point of attack, sending in their siege tower as the catapults prepared to reload and focus on another point along the wall. They expected the Scottish to be stunned behind the wall, not all ready riding out to meet them, and it was the thundering of hooves that alerted the men manning the catapult, turning too late to do anything as the Scottish rode into them, roaring in fury and calling for vengeance.
The English Captain, Ambrose, was not without his own talent for improvisation, and when he saw that the English manning the catapults were being slaughtered by the Scottish Cavalry, he saw a chance.
"They've emptied the City!" he cried,"All men forward and take the City!"
The English charged forward, riding through the hole in the city wall, only to discover that the large number of Cavalry were not in fact the bulk of the Scottish Garrison. They charged into Gille's men and found themselves caught in place, Gille himself ordering more infantry trapped behind him to go through the gates of the City and hit the English from the side.
And then the Scottish Cavalry returned to the fray.
"THE SIEGE TOWER IS BURNING!" came the cry through the English ranks, and Captain Ambrose turned in despair to see it was true. The Scottish had held back a small catapult of their own and blasted it through the siege tower when it drew close, setting it alight. He cursed angrily, how had he managed to botch this seemingly impossible to lose battle? The Scottish had wiped out their catapults, they still held the walls, and they had turned the only accessible entrance to the city into a killing zone. He had to think of a way to turn this around, he needed a strategy and quickly.... and then the decision was made for him.
"AIEEEEE!" screeched one English soldier, and then another and another, and then all of them were screaming, and Ambrose realized he was screaming too, screaming and running, running from the Scottish but the Scottish kept coming and all Ambrose could think of was that he had to run, had to run, nothing else mattered but to run and run and keep away from the Scottish, keep away from the demons from hell that chased them.
That night, as Scottish bodies were separated and prepared for funerals and English bodies were piled to the side to be disposed of later, Gille Petair of Ross-Shire received a message that he would keep for the rest of his life. The contents were short and simple, and as soon as he had read them he ordered his Commanders to gather a significant force to march on Bruges, where England's Prince Tostig ruled. Though the message did not state it, it essentially served as a Death Warrant for Scotland's oldest enemies.
England had been excommunicated.
Prince Tostig sat in Bruges, eyes wide as he stared out at the Scottish army sitting outside of his gate in the gathering gloom of dusk. They were eerily quiet, standing in the long grass where the snows had only recently melted, the storm that had marked the end of the Battle of Caen also marking the end of Winter.
"Why don't they say anything, my Lord?" asked his Second, Robin of Nottingham, staring out at the waiting Scottish,"They do not taunt, they do not challenge.... they just stand there."
"They have nothing to say to us," Tostig replied at last, struggling to gather enough saliva to swallow,"To those devils, we are all ready dead."
Gille lifted his sword and pointed at the gate as the sky darkened, and the catapult fired, the soldiers responding wordlessly as the English on and behind the walls felt the tension grow.... why were the Scottish being so quiet?
The gates burst open, and the Scottish moved as one, pushing forward in a wedge but moving silently, responding to no given order and saying not a word. For the English standing on the walls it was too much, the dark night, the wordless Scots, the firing of the catapult.
"Bugger this for a laugh, lads," grunted one soldier, and turned and headed down the stairs, quickly followed by the others on the wall, abandoning it as they moved deeper into the town. The Scots entered the city, the only noise the synched step of the soldiers, the clang of sword on armor, boots on grass, then paved roads. They still said nothing, made no noise, and Prince Tostig watched his men running and fought down an urge to join them. Everyone said the Scottish were devils, and he'd thought the death of Prince Alexander and Feradac would finally prove they were only men.... but this.... this eerie procession into his city.... were they really demons?
"I don't care if they are," he growled to Robin,"They've taken England and not been satisfied, now they'd take the last strongholds of our Empire? I'd rather die than see that.... CHARGE!"
"I should have stayed in Sherwood," sighed Robin, and rode in after Tostig whose wish was soon granted, he got to die before he saw the English Empire crushed.
As they'd slaughtered Tostig, Robin, and their Bodyguards, the Scottish had finally begun to make a noise, a low droning noise that built and built in crescendo,"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
As they wiped out the last of the Royal Bodyguard, Gille Petair of Ross-Shire rose his sword up, and the Scottish finished the first and only sentence they would scream throughout the battle as they charged in to wipe out the last of the English.
King Edward sat his horse in the unrelenting heat of the desert, staring around at the sand dune and what seemed an endless amount of dead bodies, some Scottish, most Rebel. His force had ridden up on a Rebel Band of 700, less than half of Edward's own. They had tried to run, and found their retreat cut off by the approaching Prince Comgell.
With the Rebels wiped out, the usual post-battle gathering of the dead and treating of the wounded was taking place, and Edward was taking the chance for a moment of introspection. Edmund joined him, and the walked their horses across the sand for a few minutes quietly, until finally Edward broke the silence.
"Edmund, do ye.... do ye feel old?" asked Edward, uncharacteristically nervous.
"I am old, Edward," chuckled Edmund,"We both are."
"Aye," grunted Edward irritably,"That's nae what I asked. Do ye feel old?"
Edmund thought for a moment, and Edward marvelled at how he still looked so much like the young lad who'd commandeered the Scottish fleet one drunken night so many decades ago and ended up conquering Egypt with him. Finally, Edmund answered,"Nae Edward, I don't feel old, I feel.... better."
"Oh good," grinned Edward, and Edmund was surprised to see his brother was relieved.
"Alexander's death got me to thinking," Edward explained,"Ye sons are fully grown now, and we have grown to an age where most men would be in their dotage. But I dinnae feel old, I feel.... better.... as ye say. I feel just like I did as a lad, only smarter, stronger.... better."
"Ye've grown more modest with age too," grinned Edmund. Edward pulled to a stop beside a Highlander kneeling beside the corpse of another, and Edmund stopped too, racking his brain for the man's name. He wasn't surprised when it came to Edward's lips easily, he'd always known his men, no matter how many he'd personally led.
"Angus," Edward said, and Edmund was surprised to see tears streaming down the face of the white-haired, grizzly old Highlander as he looked up from the corpse. He made no other visible sign or sound of grief, and stood to attention when he saw it was his King,"From the Clan Donald, is it nae? This was your cousin, Rory?"
"A... aye," grunted Angus, looking down at the corpse beside him,"A good lad.... an old lad too, ye dinnae get too many of them. Bloody Rebel stuck a spear in his belly, Rory tore his throat out with his teeth."
"The Donald's have a reputation for being bloodthirsty," nodded Edward,"Our father spoke of ye Clan with respect, Angus, they gave Clan Canmore a great deal of trouble for quite some time.... he was glad when ye made peace, and I've been proud to fight alongside ye Clan for as long as I've been fighting."
"Thank ye, King Edward," grunted Angus, rubbing his side. Edmund looked closer, and realized the blood on Angus wasn't all dry, and it wasn't all done coming yet,"I've been proud to fight for ye."
Edward saluted, and Edmund followed a second later, Angus returning the gesture as Edward rode on. Looking back, Edmund noted Angus returned to a seated position next to Rory's corpse, apparently striking up a conversation with the dead man.
"Is he...." started Edmund.
"Aye, he's fought his last battle with us," grunted Edward,"Many Scotsmen did today, and many more will in the future.... Alexander's death has put me in a strange mood, Edmund. I dinnae feel old, but I am old, and I find myself fearing some nights that I'll go on feeling better than I did the previous day, but then one day God will call me home before my work here is done."
"I dinnae think it works that way, Edward," said Edmund,"Ye..."
"I know ye're not a believer, Edmund, ye never were," interrupted Edward,"But I am, and I dinnae question God's will, he works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform."
They rode up onto the crest of a sand dune and looked out across the plains, towards far distant Edessa. Once it had been a Turkish stronghold, now it was in the hands of - according to which rumor you believed - either the Rebels or the Mongols. The Horde had swept through Turkey as if they were nothing, and Scotland rode now to mop up after them and then deal with Genghis Khan's armies.
"Many Scotsmen have died in my service, and many more will," Edward repeated, and then laughed. It was a hale and hearty laugh, the laugh of the stubborn lad who had taken his Father's army to a foreign land on the other edge of the World and conquered an ancient Empire,"Oh but Edmund, one thing we Scotsmen have always been better at than killing is making more little Scotsmen."
He swept his arm out, encompassing the massive army of Scotsmen spread out across the desert almost as far as the eye could see, and proclaimed,"I think it is time we showed this Genghis Khan what a true Horde looks like."