Part 24: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 23Gille Calline the Balleol settled into his seat with an audible groan, he was growing older, there was no doubting it. He smiled, looking out from his balcony over Rome, a magnificent city unlike any he had ever seen - and he'd seen many, he'd travelled every yard of the world and seen things beyond the ken of the common man, even beyond the ken of the educated ruling class. He'd known hardship in his time, slept in deserts and gone without food for days, been near death and had bounties on his head. Now here he sat in luxury in what many considered the greatest city in the world, complaining because his muscles ached from a hard day of sitting about discussing philosophy.
A knock at Gille's door interrupted his thoughts, and the inscrutable mask that made him such an effective Diplomat slid effortlessly onto his face as he called out,"Enter."
A messenger slid quietly into the room and handed him a small scrap of paper, on which were four words in a code devised by Prince Edmund's terrifying Fearghus Campbell, who was the only person Gille had ever met that he couldn't immediately read like an open book.
"Remain," Gille ordered the messenger as he read the note. He'd noted immediately the messenger was sweating and wide-eyed despite the cool weather, which meant he knew more than was good for him,"How?"
"My Lord?" asked the messenger, and Gille didn't bother to correct him on the improper use of title.
"How did it happen, what happened? You know," Gille said, slipping into Spanish effortlessly after the messenger's slight accent had indicated that was his country of birth. The use of the man's mother tongue had the desired effect of lowering his guard, and the messenger dropped his voice to a whisper.
"They say his Holiness was engaging in.... coitus," he whispered,"And his heart gave out from the effort."
"Coitus is nothing new for a Pope," muttered Gille,"There is something else, what is it?"
"His Holiness was.... "teaching".... a young Sicilian Noble, my Lord."
Gille grinned humorlessly, he didn't have to ask how young, he knew the names, ages, personalities, political leanings and private fetishes of every Noble in Rome, even those with no power or influence (that they were aware of).
"There will be a backlash from this," he muttered to himself, tossing a few coins the messenger's way and dismissing him,"The Sicilians may find their star on the wane, and the Church will hide the scandal externally, but act internally to address it. A time of religious purity is coming..... this may prove a great boon for Scotland and a terrible reckoning for our enemies.
Khanzada Kublai pulled his horse up short and raised an arm, and his army froze with the eerie precision that had seen crushed enemies of the past refer to The Horde as a singular being, some kind of insect-like hive mind - human locusts. The effect was somewhat diminished when there were less than 200 of them, however, and this was the position Kublai now found himself in.
Their disastrous clash with the Skot-tish had seen he and Aradai forced to retreat with no way to get warning to Chaghatai Khan that the Horde was riding into an ambush. Aradai had ridden North but Kublai had turned and moved South in the hopes of somehow getting ahead of the Skot-tish, only to arrive too late to prevent the massacre of Jebe and Bayan. Despite his own rivalry with the two Warlords, it had shocked and angered Kublai to watch two of the mightiest Warlord's of the Horde wiped out. He had continued South because the way North would only lead into more Skot-tish territory, and he'd decided to gamble on being able to reach one of the Skot-tish coastal cities, which Chaghatai believed to be completely emptied of troops.
They'd ridden mostly at night to try and avoid detection, and it was grating on Kublai and his men to have to move so silently and carefully, as opposed to their usual sweeping movement where the vast numbers of Horde would wash over any and all opposition.
"I hear hooves," he grunted,"A large force is riding from the North, in procession but not uniform.... they are NOT Horde."
"The Skot-tish?" asked one of the few Captains left alive to him, that was one of the Skot-tish's particular talents, killing commanders and leaving the rabble alive,"How could they have raised a new army so quickly?"
"Perhaps it is not a new army," grunted Kublai,"We may not have covered our tracks as well as we thought; this could be one of those cursed armies that killed Jebe and Bayan. Turn the man and prepare formations, they do not fight us at a narrow bridge today, but in open desert, let us see what type of desert fighters these Skot-tish are."
They formed up and waited, and the thunder of hooves grew and grew, visible dust clouds growing and growing as Khanzadai Kublai struggled to hold down the growing (and unfamiliar) feeling of dread and fear in his stomach. There were hundreds of them, numbers far outweighing Kublai's own pathetic few. He swallowed dryly and ordered his archers forward, both mounted and foot, but as they moved forward, so did the Skot-tish, and there were so many more of them... so many more.
As the sun began to rise, the contrast of sky against the black contours of the desert were broken by the silhouette of fleeing Mongols, running in terror from the Scottish. They were not broken, but retreating in cold horror, resigned to almost inevitable death.
Arrows rained down on them as the Mongols ran, and more and more of them fell, Khanzada Kublai pushing his horse to the limit as he charges at the front of his men, grimacing in humiliation and anger every time he heard another of his men fall. Finally their demon pursuers broke off, not wanting to move too far south away from Gawain Arthyn's army. But even after the Scots had stopped pursuing, the Mongols continued to run, until they'd charged so far that their horses were near death. Kublai counted the remains of what had been an army of close to 2000 before they'd entered Skot-tish lands, and buried his head in his hands when he realized he had only 43 left.
The Khanzadai moved away from his men as they tended to their horses and sat down in the sand, pretending to be checking his armor as he vented his frustration bitterly under his breath. This was all Chaghatai's fault; the idiot had broken up The Horde and removed their one unassailable strength, their huge numbers. What was he to do now? Less than 50 men left, lost in some deep stretch of desert far South from the rest of The Horde, massive armies of the demon Skot-tish between him and Aradai, the only Warlord that could truly be trusted to lead the Horde to victory now.
He stood up with a sigh, removing his fur hat to wipe the sweat from his forehead... and then stopped and squeezed his eyes shut to look to the deep south.... was that? It was..... dust rising, an army was approaching from the south!
"By all the demons of all the hells," grunted Kublai,"There is no end to them.... and they will be the end of us."
Aed Canmore - youngest son of the late Alexander Canmore - was disappointed... THIS was The Horde?
"Ach, there's nae many of them lads," he grunted,"But one is too many on Scottish lands! Let's at them, and be done with this bloody business quick!"
Aed watched as the nine surviving Mongols retreated, dismissing them from his mind. They weren't a Horde anymore; there weren't even enough of them to form a bandit group. They'd die in the desert, fall victim to bandits or be wiped out by a Scottish garrison on manoeuvres.
"My Lord," grunted a soldier, hauling one of the bow legged, oily haired Mongols to him. The man looked middle aged and defiant despite his capture, trying to maintain some dignity as he was forced to his knees, swords held to back.
"This is their Captain?" asked Aed as he slid from his horse and approached the kneeling Mongol.
"I am Khanzadai Kublai!" spat Kublai angrily,"Warlord of The Horde, heir to the command of Chaghatai Khan. I rode beside Genghis Khan, I have killed men in their thousands, I do not fear you!"
"Anyone get any of that?" asked Aed.
"Nae, my Lord," laughed a soldier,"It's all "gah la bahla" to me."
Unlike the Scottish forces to the North, most of the men in the South of what had once been Egypt were recruits from Edinburgh, York, London, Inverness and Nottingham. Those who had been stationed in Jerusalem, Gaza, Antioch, Apella and Damascus were a mixture of Scots and half-breeds from the former native peoples, and well versed in any number of languages. After they had first arrived in Egypt, Edmund had only been half-joking to Edward when he'd suggested they take a leaf out of the English's book and,"Fuck the native people out of their old culture."
"I imagine he's telling us what a big, strapping lad he is," chuckled Aed,"How many men he's killed and such. I imagine he'd be worth quite a ransom."
"I. a warrior am. first," grunted Kublai in halting Scottish and surprising his captors.
"Aye, I see," muttered Aed, then looked at his soldiers,"Let him up!"
The men exchanged surprised looks, then hauled Kublai to his feet and stepped back at Aed's gesture.
"Ye're a warrior first," Aed said, lifting a sword from the ground where a dead Mongol lay,"I'll nae ransom ye and humiliate ye, this was nae great military victory for me."
Kublai's eyes widened as Aed tossed a sword to him, almost fumbling the blade as he reached out and grabbed at it. He looked up as Aed drew his own sword, and a fierce grin crossed his face before he charged forward.
Aed stepped aside, grabbing Kublai's wrist and twisting it so the man dropped his sword. Twisting Kublai around, Aed thrust his sword into Kublai's chest and pulled the man close, staring into his eyes.
"Th... thank... you..." gasped Kublai, and then the light faded from his eyes and Aed let his corpse fall to the ground.
"Nae," whispered Aed under his breath,"Thank ye, now the men have seen my bravery and ability to fight."
"Are ye sure ye want to be here?" King Edward asked once again, and Edmund smiled.
"Aye for the last time, Edward," chuckled Edmund,"Domnall is growing tired of my lecturing, I thought it would do him good to run Edessa without me looking over his shoulder."
Edward shrugged and turned his horse back around to share a final few thoughts with Comgell and Matad, and Edmund struggled to keep his face looking bored. After Gawain had obliterated the Mongols, Edward had decided to ride from Edessa to the rebel city of Mosul, complaining that the building of the Mongol Extermination Armies had near bankrupted the Empire. A good city sacking was in order, to pump florins back into the coffers, and also - Edmund suspected - because Edward felt like killing some things again. Edmund had surprised Edward by insisting that he come along too, which was unusual, as Edmund was far better suited to (and preferred) the running of a city as opposed to the running of an Army. But he had been insistent, and Edward enjoyed his brother's company, so he had come. But his reasons for coming were far from enjoying the company of his Brother and King.
He was here to secure his sons' future.
"Mosul's garrison is a good size, but the Rebels are poorly armed and trained," their spy had told them, smuggling a message out of Mosul and guaranteeing that he could have the gate opened for them,"They will nae be able to stand against a concerted charge of Scottish men."
King Edward was relying on this, and Edmund was relying on other information the spy had brought to him alone. Now he watched his Brother, trying to hide the conflicting emotions and thoughts he was feeling, as Edward addressed the men, firing them up ready for War.... and then the time for second thoughts was over as Edward ordered the charge and Comgell and Matad spurred their horses forward.
True to his word, their spy had arranged for the gates of the city to open, but after Comgell and Matad were through, the portcullis suddenly crashed down behind them, unnoticed as they charged their Cavalry units into the backs of the fleeing Rebel Spearmen inside the city walls, and then braced for a counter-charge from the Rebel's Captain Kujuk.
"Get that gate open!" roared Edward in fury as he watched the infantry milling around the gate,"What is that bastard spy doing?"
"His job," muttered Edmund under his breath, and felt a wave of guilt wash over him.
Inside the walls, Prince Comgell had time to wonder where the hell the infantry was, and then Captain Kojuk was slamming their horses together screaming in fury and swinging his sword.
"Oh shut up," muttered Comgell, throwing his shield up and blocking the blow, then cleaving the Captain's head from his shoulders.
The Cavalry pulled back, dismayed by their Captain's death and seeking to retreat to the City Square where their spearmen had all ready retreated and braced. As Comgell and Matad gave chase, their blood up from their foes retreating, the portcullis keeping the Scottish infantry out of the city slowly pulled up.
"Finally!" roared Edward,"Get into that bloody city and kill!"
The Infantry piled in, Pikemen following the trial of dead Rebels towards the City Square while the archers took note of Rebel Infantry moving along the interior of the wall and opening fire on them.
At the Square, Comgell and his men slashed and cut down the Rebel Spearmen, Comgell constantly looking around now, confused by the lack of Scottish infantry... where the hell were they? Suddenly a scream caught his attention, and turning he gasped in horror as he saw his adopted son, Matad, surrounded by Spearmen stabbing at him as he lay on the ground beneath his fallen horse.
"MATAD!" screamed Comgell, and rode his horse into the Spearmen, slashing in fury at them, cutting them down one after the other as they surrounded him. They stabbed and slashed, piercing his armor in multiple places, blood streaming from him, but he kept slashing and striking them down, even as his horse collapsed beneath him. Spearmen kept coming and he dropped to his knees, but still he kept swinging his sword, plunging his weapon into Rebels again and again as his vision turned red first with rage and pain, then with blood, and then he saw no more.
"We've killed their Captains!" laughed a Rebel, and then the laughter died in his throat as flaming arrows rained down onto them.
The Infantry had finally arrived.
Prince Edmund rode past the dead bodies to the City Square, where Edward was saying a prayer over the bodies of Comgell and Matad. Their Spy had explained to him that soldiers had forced their way into the Gate Tower and closed the gate, and it had been a wonder that he'd been able to make up a disguise, infiltrate the tower and take control of the gate again to let the infantry in. Edward had been enraged at Comgell and Matad's death, but the spy had spoken well enough to convince the King that he was not responsible for their deaths, but rather responsible for the successful capture of Mosul.
Now his brother was saying his farewell to the two men who had served him so well, and it was all Edmund could do not to vomit at his own part in their deaths. It was he who had ordered the spy to shut the gates after Comgell and Matad entered the city and not reopen them until it seemed impossible that the two Princes not die. All had gone according to his plan, and it was all to secure the future of his sons. He loved his Brother, but Edward had no true sons of his own, and could never know the importance of those blood ties. For him, the idea of Comgell as King of Scotland was no issue, because Comgell was his adopted Grandson, but for Edmund, the idea of his sons - Canmores true - being high ranking Noblemen under the Kingship of an adopted man was not tenable.
So he had done all but murder the two fine, upstanding Noblemen himself. If he had believed in God, he would have believed his mortal soul was in danger of hell. As it was, he felt hollow inside, despite all but securing the position of heir to one of his sons, whether Domnall, Nectan or Aodh.
He had achieved what he desired, but for the first time in his life, Prince Edmund Canmore felt old.