Part 25: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 24In Bruges, Captain Kyle was going over the city plans for the thousandth time, discussing with his Commanders once more the best placement of troops to minimize losses on their side. Bruges seemed mostly safe from Milan for the present time, as Duke Puccio seemed obsessed with trying to take Caen after suffering loss after loss at the City. But England's last stronghold at Antwerp remained a small thorn in Scotland's side, as the now isolated former mighty Empire gathered its strength in hopes of retaking one of their lost cities.
A servant coughed lightly to get Kyle's attention, and he turned to see a Portugese Diplomat standing nervously waiting on him. He raised an eyebrow, then approached and took the man's proffered hand.
"Greetings, mighty Lord," said the Diplomat, and Kyle didn't bother to correct him on the title, let the man be nervous about him,"I am Theodosio Solaz, Diplomat of the Portugese Empire."
"I welcome ye to Bruges," said Kyle,"May I ask what business ye wish with us?"
"We would ask you to lower our swords and hear us out," said Theodosio,"The bloodshed between us has become meaningless, let us end this warring today."
Kyle kept his face blank, but internally he was startled.... end war with Portugal? Was Scotland ever at war with Portugal!?! He was saved by an aide who apologized for interrupting, and took Kyle aside under the pretence of passing him an important message. Once out of earshot of Theodosio, the aide explained quickly that Portugal had landed near Caernarvon months earlier, carried out exercises on Scottish lands, and then left on their fleet without ever raising a sword towards a Scotsman, raping a woman or burning a farm. Worried by more important matters, Adam Canmore had paid them no mind, but the Portugese had seen it as a brash hostile move towards the Scottish probably designed to improve their own standing with the rest of the world, and since been in a panic that Scotland would react.
"Very well," grunted Kyle, returning to Theodosio,"I agree that war between our nations is accomplishing nothing, let us embrace peace."
"AHA!" laughed Theodosio, clapping his hands with delight before remembering his place,"I thank you, noble Lord; let our peace last for all time. I will take up no more of your ti..."
"A moment," said Kyle,"Before ye leave, maybe our newfound friendship can be put to our mutual benefit. I have here maps of the known world, but they are out of date. Perhaps I could show ye how Scotland's holdings have affected world geography, and ye could do the same in regards to Portugal?"
Theodosio considered for a second, then shook his head,"No no, that is a grossly unbalanced deal, noble Lord, I cannot accept that."
"Oh," muttered Kyle,"Well I guess..."
"If you could just confirm on your maps Scotland's current holdings," interrupted Theodosio,"And in return I shall write you up papers granting Scotland trade rights throughout Portugal."
As Theodosio moved towards the notes, Kyle turned a wide-eyed smile on his aide, who silently chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. Who understood the Portugese?
In the dingy slums of Cairo, down narrow streets where poorly constructed homes that were barely more than huts fitted families running into double-digits, lived a woman practising a deadly profession. 50 years ago she had lived in the same rundown shack and practiced the same art, but risked no chance of death by religious leaders. That had been in the days of the Egyptian Kings, descendents of the mighty Pharaohs of old, Men-Gods whose families might even chance the dangerous slums to hear her speak. But now the Scottish ruled, and Cairo was a Christian City, and though she had continued her work over the decades, the small power she had wielded over the slums inhabitants was gone, their fear of her tempered by the knowledge that a word to the authorities would see her tried and executed for heresy.
The hanging curtain at the door of her shack was pulled opened and she raised her head from the old text she had been laboriously reading in the dim light, cursing her aging vision. She squinted against the light silhouetting the figure, then smiled a toothless grin.
"Patrick MacDougall, enter and be welcome," she cackled, and enjoyed the visible flinch the Diplomat gave when she identified him. Then he relaxed.
"Ye know me because these slums know me," he grunted,"I am a patron of what ye laughably call pubs in this dingy, sand cursed city."
"Aye," she grinned,"Ye've not worked ye trade for years, Patrick MacDougall, ye've been a drunkard and worse, wasting away ye talents and education and collecting ye pay from a Scottish Nobility that has forgotten ye."
He let the curtain fall behind him and crumpled into the seat across from hers, sneering as he looked about her shack and then at her,"Do ye put on that touch of Scottish accent? Or have the garrison fucked enough of the whores around here to make it ye natural away of speaking?"
She ignored the insult, placing aside her text and reaching to take his hands. He momentarily flinched and then let her hold on, watching as her eyes dramatically rolled back in her head and she let out a long, low moan.
"Save me the theatrics, soothsayer," he grunted,"Just tell me the future, ye ken what it is I want."
"Aye," she laughed, head still cast back,"Ye've crawled out of ye bottle long enough for ye hatred to overwhelm ye self-pity. Ye want to find out if King Edward will suffer a fate that will make ye feel somewhat better about the misery ye own life has spiralled in-"
"JUST TELL ME HOW HE DIES!" screamed Patrick, and this time it was the Soothsayer who flinched, taken aback by his fury,"TELL ME THAT THE BASTARD GETS WHAT HE DESERVES!"
She dropped her head back and stared him directly in the eyes, and when she spoke it was in a droning monotone,"I see locusts spreading across the sky, a field of wheat laying open before them, and a white crowned unicorn standing in defence. I see the locusts descending on the Unicorn, swarming it and surrounding it in order to bring it do-"
"I said enough with the theatrics," growled Patrick, and the Soothsayer heard such menace in his voice that she momentarily faltered, and he snapped at her,"The Locusts are the Mongols, the field is the Scottish Empire and the Unicorn is King Edward, I see that all as plain as day. Ye dinnae have to gild ye message, I'll pay ye better if ye simply speak plain."
"I see a great Mongol Warlord clashing with King Edward on the field of battle," she hissed,"I see the Scottish army overwhelmed and the fate of battle held in the balance. I see the balance tipped when the Mongol Warlord's head is the one held high.... and I see the King of Scotland lying dead and thousands lining the streets to mourn."
"Lies," grunted Patrick and staggered to his feet, swaying slightly. She realized he was drunker than she'd thought, and wandered uneasily if he was armed,"The Mongols are broken, their Khan flees in terror and their heir is dead at Aed Canmore's hands. Ye vision is nothing more than shite."
He turned to leave and she spoke once more, but it was his own voice he heard.
"I was aggrieved to hear of Prince David's death, my Lord, am I to take it from your part in the battle of Damascus that we are resigned now to accepting the fate dictated to us by King Edward?"
He turned in horror, and she smiled as her mouth opened and he heard once again the words of a dead man,"
"Accept our fate? Nae, I will return the Crown to the proper Canmore hands if I must strangle the life from Edward the Pretender myself. We will make Scotland itself once more, this I swear."
Patrick reached into his pockets, fumbled with the contents, and then tossed a sack of florins onto the table before turning and fleeing.
He was known as Aradai the Wrathful, and Khanzada Aradai, new heir to the Khan of the Mongol Horde. He was young, but proven in battle and a figure of fear both to his enemies and his men, especially his men. Aed Erskyn had been watching him for some time now, the Scottish Spy given the task to infiltrate the Mongols by Fearghus Campbell, Spymaster of the Scottish Empire. Aed was a formidable man - the Spy Fearghus had recommended Edmund replace him with as Spymaster should he die - and proven up to the task, disguising himself as a Mongol and infiltrating the camp, where his flawless Mongolian and a past stitched together from information extricated from Mongolian prisoners saw him accepted instantly. In that time he had watched Khanzada fly often into great rage over the smallest thing, and his fury when news of Kublai's death had reached him had been a sight to behold. He often flogged the skin from those who he perceived as wronging him, and Aed had noted that the man seemed to take a perverse pleasure from it.
He was young, potent, filled with rage and incredibly dangerous.
After presenting his report to Gawain Arthyn, Aed - who was out of his filthy furs but still unshaven with a thick black moustache and long oily hair - was dismissed and instantly commandeered a horse to head for Edessa. He went with such haste not because he feared being present at the coming battle, but because he was desperate for a hot bath, shave and haircut.
By God, it might be the desert, but a man was still entitled to some civilization!
After Aed left, Gawain rode his horse out and stared at the desert stretching out before him as far as the eye could see, between here and Mosul there was nothing but sand and the odd small oasis.
And The Mongols.
Khanzada Aradai was riding this way, Aed explaining that the Mongol Warlord believed that Edessa had been left mostly undefended when King Edward took Mosul. He meant to take the city and hold it, possibly until Chaghatai Khan could rejoin him and they could rebuild their armies. Gawain's job was to stop him from reaching Edessa, but this time he would be facing the Mongols in open desert warfare, not at a bridge chokepoint where he could make the Mongols come to him.
He stared down the lines of his men, in formation now as they prepared for the coming of the Mongols. Gawain's strategy was simple, he found that the more complex a plan the more likely things could go wrong. His Pikemen were stretched out in a thin line, with archers lined up behind them and then the cavalry sandwiching an undermanned catapult. They'd borrow a page from the Mongols' book and blast them with arrows, forcing them to charge the Pikemen to try and break them and get to the archers behind them.
As the Mongols rode into view, Gawain ordered the archers to prepare to fire, and they rushed through the Pikemen to fire on the Mongols and then pull back. Gawain watched through gritted teeth to see if Aradai would take the bait, the man was apparently an accomplished commander, but Gawain hoped his rage would overcome his sense and he would order a charge..... and to his great relief, he did.
"PUSH THROUGH!" screamed Aradai as he plunged against the Pikemen, Mongol Horsemen all the way down the line doing the same,"DRIVE THROUGH THEM AND KILL THEIR LEADER! KILL IN THE NAME OF THE HORDE!"
"Piss on ye Horde," grunted Gawain to himself as he watched the meeting of Scottish pikes and Mongol Horse, then called out,"HOLD THEM LADS! DINNAE LET THEM THROUGH!"
Aradai screamed in impotent fury as arrows downed his men in droves and the Pikemen were pushed to their limit but did not budge. Unlike every foe that the Mongols had ever faced, the Scottish did not break and run but held their ground... and what was worse, they laughed! They taunted! They called for more!
"RARRRRGHHHHHHH!" screamed Aradai,"RARRRRRRGGGGGH!"
He turned and slashed at his own men around him, cutting a path through them as the astonished warriors fell before their own Warlord's sword. He rode clear of the milling clash of horse and man and screamed in humiliating rage,"RETREAT! WE CANNOT BEAT THEM HERE! RETREAT!"
"Give chase," Gawain ordered his cavalry, feeling a burst of vindication as the Mongols turned and ran, this time from a foe they had met in open desert, which was meant to be their speciality,"Cut down those you can, particularly their on foot archers. When next we meet, I dinnae want them to be able to field anything but mounted lancers. Now RIDE!"
Patrick MacDougall sat in a "pub" in Cairo, a place that would raise the eyebrows of any "true" Scotsman back home in Edinburgh. The walls were open to break the heat of the day, and men were expected to drink in the light! Pure-blooded Scotsman fresh off the boat from the United Kingdom sat laughing with half-breeds, quarter breeds and bastards, with the Sudanese and other mercenaries that made up the conglomerate peoples of the Scottish Empire. MacDougall fumed every time he heard these people referenced as "Scottish", and not for the first time he wondered how the world had gone and changed on him so harshly.
"HEY LADS!" laughed a voice, the noise spiking MacDougall's head,"JUST GOT WORD! PRINCE GAWAIN WENT AND KILLED HIMSELF ANOTHER BUNCH OF MONGOLS!"
A cheer rose up throughout the "pub" and MacDougall lowered his head even more, hissing softly between gritted teeth. The lying bitch of a Soothsayer had fooled him with her cheap parlor tricks after all, she must have had some past connection to the Highland Noble Robert, who'd deserted him along with Alexander when they'd sailed on their blasted Crusade and then ridden to Edinburgh's rescue. He'd told the bitch about their abandoned plot and she'd waited patiently for the chance to use the information on Patrick and get a nice fat sack of florins from him. Now the Mongols were all but wiped from the World and King Edward would go on living forever, just to spite him.
As Scotsman shouted each other drinks, Patrick forced a false smile and joined in the laughing and singing, feeling sicker and older with every passing minute.
"Sicily sent a Diplomat crawling to Caen and offered peace," chuckled Edward, sitting in Edessa with Edmund,"I do believe the time may come when Scotland only finds herself at war with TWO other nations!"
Edmund didn't laugh, and Edward sighed.
"Our Papal standing has improved since they made Maczeus Pope, he's a true believer and even ye must acknowledge that as good news," Edward tried,"And that idiot Duke Puccio has gotten himself excommunicated, turns out he was nae so cunning after all!"
Edmund just stared at his brother.
"Oh fine," sighed Edward,"This is about Gawain, right?"
"Ye would make him heir to the throne of Scotland," grunted Edmund, making a statement and not a question,"Ye would give someone not of the Canmore Blood control of the Scottish Empire that WE built!"
"We are still at war with the Mongols!" snapped Edward,"Domnall and Nectan are fine lads, and they're finding their way as men. Nectan has been turning around our problems at Antioch, and Domnall has learned much about the ways of war, but you and I are both old, Edmund, whether we feel it or not. If I was to die tomorrow, I need to ken the King is someone who can conquer on the battlefield!"
"If we were to die tomorrow," Edmund retorted,"Gawain could rule for another 40 to 50 years, and my sons would be in their dotage by the time he passed on. Do ye honestly think he would nae name his own kin as his heirs?"
"I cannae think long term at this time," Edward shouted, standing up and pacing the table,"The Mongols..."
"The Mongols are all but broken!" Edmund yelled, rising to his feet as well,"The truth is-"
"My Lords," interrupted a quiet voice, and both men twisted about in surprise. Before them stood Fearghus Campbell, who had entered Edward's private office unseen by either them or the guards. Once more Edward felt a chill in the man's presence, he was like a ghost, even now at an age when most men were near their deathbeds, he looked ageless,"I bear grim tidings."
"What is it, Fearghus?" asked Edmund, who had known Fearghus almost as long as he'd known Edward and was one of the only men who could come close to reading the Spymaster.
"The Mongols are marching from the East, my Lords," Fearghus reported, and Edward barked a short, sharp laugh.
"Ye man Aed all ready told us, Campbell, Prince Gawain sent Aradai running like a scalded dog with its tail between its legs."
"Nae, my King," corrected Fearghus softly,"Further East than that, it seems that the Mongols never showed us their full strength."
"How many more, Fearghus?" asked Edmund, feeling that growing numbness that usually only came to him in a battle.
Fearghus hesitated for a moment, then answered.