Part 28: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 27The messenger walked through the streets of Rennes, smiling at the sight of hanging Scottish banners. The damaged walls were all ready being repaired, and he noted with approval the heads of Captain Vaggio and Marco on pikes on the castle walls.
He passed through the castle walls after being challenged by a guard, and moved into the castle proper to the court-room where all business was heard by the current Governor of Rennes, a city once French, then English, then Scottish, then Milanese.
Now Scottish again.
Adam Canmore's men had successfully recaptured the city where his father, Alexander, had died in glory and honor on the battlefield. The presence of the Milanese in Rennes had been an inexcusable insult to the Scottish Empire and the honor of the Canmore name. Captain Stuart had wiped that insult clear, and Adam Canmore had ordered the messenger to bring to Stuart his appreciation, an offer of adoption into the Canmore family.
"I have come to see Captain Stuart," the messenger grunted as he stepped into Castle Rennes court,"I bear an important gift from Prince Adam Canmore."
"I'm afraid Captain Stuart is unavailable," replied the harried looking official sitting staring at the long line of petitioners that had been forced to wait on the Royal Messenger,"He'll nae be back."
"Where in heaven is he then?" snapped the messenger,"I must see him."
"Then find yeself a good Priest or a cheap assassin," muttered the official,"Captain Stuart died from a pox a week ago, after enjoying himself a deal too much following the recapture of Rennes."
The messenger closed his eyes and sighed, not at the news but the implications. Now he'd have to return to Adam Canmore to tell him his will had been thwarted, and that was something the harsh (and paranoid) ruler did not take kindly to.
At Bruges, Captain Mac Bethad walked along the walls staring at the sieging Milanese. Milan's armies had been a constant presence on the former French Coast since the death of Prince Alexander, and Scotland had continued to throw them back again and again. Mac Bethad longed to take his men and march on Milan's own cities, to throw the daily lives of their citizens into disarray, but orders from Adam Canmore made it clear that he would not leave the coastal cities undefended and risk giving Milan - or even England - the chance to launch an offensive onto the Scottish mainland. Even the recent news of the breaking of the Milanese/English alliance had not altered his stance. Milan's frustration at their failure to take Bruges and Caen being taken out on England, which in turn blamed them for not working together from Antwerp to concentrate on Bruges. Mac had to admit that if he'd been in their shoes, he would have done just that and guaranteed the sacking of Bruges, but the Milanese and English were both too proud, and now any chance they'd had to overcome Scotland's defenses were gone.
"Enough!" snapped Mac, clapping his hands together,"If we cannae take the fight to Milan in their own cities, we'll take the fight to them outside ours. Assemble the men, let's kill some Milanese!"
Outside the city, Captain Dego watched men swarming onto the distant walls and bit back a curse. The Scottish were preparing to launch an assault on them, well before his own men had a chance to build their siege equipment and await the arrival of reinforcements. The Scottish inside the city far outnumbered them; they'd laid siege more to keep them from reinforcing Caen than anything else. Now the Scottish were coming out to fight, and they'd had to choose a stormy day with rain in the air to do it.
"Pull back men!" he called,"Get into formation and stay out of Crossbow reach, I'll warrant those men on the walls are even now loading up to kill from afar! If they want to fight us, they'll have to come out of their city and meet us on the field like men!"
The Milanese lined up in formation as far from the city walls as they could get while still posing a threat to the Scottish. Dego smiled, now the Scottish would HAVE to come out onto the field to face them, and he was confident he could put his own Crossbowmen to good use to thin down their superior numbers. He smiled as he saw the gate to the city open, then frowned as he saw what was coming through.... catapults.
"Shit," he grunted,"Get forward and kill the operators before they can fire on us!"
"But sir!" gasped his second,"The crossbowmen on the walls will cut our men down li-"
"That catapult will blow us into Hell if we don't! Now GO!"
Captain Dego watched the few surviving crossbowmen routing, charging past their countrymen and disappearing into the forest in terror after being slaughtered by a mixture of crossbow bolts and catapult fire.
"Now men!" ordered Captain Mac Bethad,"Teach the bastards that are left they should follow the example of those other craven dogs!"
"This is ridiculous!" hissed Dego,"We're being slaughtered, RETREAT! RETREAT!"
Mac pulled up short as he watched the surviving Milanese disappear into the forest, feeling grim satisfaction at his victory. But then the old anger returned, what use were these victories if Adam Canmore would not let them off their leash and take war to the Milanese?
Ian Mensies bowed before his King inside the command tent pitched in the harsh desert, ready to present his report. He carried no papers or messages, only Fearghus Campbell ever held physical copies of their intelligence, and even then only rarely. All in the Scottish Spy Network had been taught to present their messages orally and only ever to an authorised figure, usually Fearghus himself.
This was Mensies first meeting with the new King, and he eyed the man up carefully, being sure not to be seen to do so. Domnall looked stern and uncompromising, but his eyes moved too rapidly, he shifted too quickly between camaraderie and paternalism. He was acting the King, but he had not settled into his role yet, and one thing was for sure, he was no Edward Canmore.
"Yerevan holds a garrison of just over 1500 men," Mensies was telling his King,"Led by the Captain of the Archers, Suleymish. They have roughly 400 archers to stand the walls, and a large number of spearmen to stand at any breach of the gate and choke it with the corpses of cavalry. There are some mounted lancers, but not enough to make any great difference and the rest of the numbers are made up in peasants who at best will provide momentary resistance to our men."
"They have more men than us," grunted Domnall,"But the quality of our own far surpasses theirs. The important thing is that we are encroaching close on the diminishing borders of the Turkish Empire, and we must be careful not to draw them into aggression with us. Yet."
Ian nodded, noting that Domnall was talking aloud more to himself than the Spy, but was still talking out lord. Edward Canmore would never have exposed his inner thoughts like this; Domnall still had much to learn.
Domnall noted that the grey-haired spy was still present and dismissed him, returned to his maps and drawn outlines of the city. This was hardly his first battle; he'd ridden with Edward and Edmund enough times and killed many men at their side. But for the first time he was to LEAD a battle, and though he was convinced of the soundness of his battleplan, he still felt nervous butterflies. What if he hadn't thought of something? His Father and Uncle Edward had always been there before to prompt him in the right direction if he forgot something, but now there was only him and advisers that were no more experienced than he.
This would be his first true test.
"Trebuchets, smash in the gate and wipe their archers of the walls!" ordered Domnall as his men lined up before the walls of Yerevan,"I dinnae want any Scotsman to die this day unless the Rebel facing him is close enough to smell the ale on his breath!"
No one laughed at the joke and he silently cursed, remembering how well his Uncle Edward had handled such pre-battle speeches. He himself had always gotten on well enough with the men, but since becoming King his own natural predilection for solitude had seen him spend less time with them, and maybe they'd taken it as an insult? Regardless, the time had come for battle, and he must put all his concentration into that, not whether the men liked him or not.
As Turkopole Archers rode in circles before the wall and let stream their arrows, Domnall only felt his tension growl. So far all was going exactly as he'd planned, but what if he'd missed something? Was there something he hadn't thought of? He pushed the thought back and ordered the infantry forward to wipe out the last surviving archers on the shattered walls.
The Rebels began to retreat, charging deeper into the city followed by the baying Scotsmen, and Domnall's frown deepened. What if they had Ballista in there? Or Catapults? Or a reserve force that could cut his infantry off and wipe them out? He should have thought of these things earlier and prepared his men for the eventuality, dammit! Uncle Edward would have, now he just knew that the cry was about to go up that his men were being slaugh-
"They've routed!" came the cry from within the city, and Domnall shook his head clear of his dark thoughts and spurred his horse forward to observe the final extermination of the rebels holding Yerevan, and his first true victory. He smiled, maybe things were going to be okay after all?
Things were getting bad.
Domnall sat his seat... throne, he corrected himself, sat his throne in Edessa and stared with disbelief at his brother.
"I thought ye'd be pleased!" Aodh whined,"Caesarea is in Scottish hands now!"
"Ye have declared war against the Turks," grunted Domnall in reply,"And opened ANOTHER front in our Empire's war! Nae I am nae pleased, Aodh!"
"But the Turks are a spent force," complained Aodh,"They're all but wiped out all ready, and besides.... they're heathens."
"Sultan Tutush was also a highly respected, formidable leader," spat Domnall,"And when ye ordered 430 Scotsmen to attack Caesarea and Tutush's barely 70 men.... and then lost over 200 men doing it... ye gave the Turks' a martyr to rally around, and made us look like clumsy-footed fools in the process. Now we must look to the North for an attack from the Turks, deal with rebels to the North-east and who knows how many Mongols still licking their wounds to the East. To top it off, on the other edge of the world England and Milan still provide a thorn in our sides.... are ye mad Aodh?"
Aodh's face flared with anger but he held his tongue, he'd always known his place. A loved son, Aodh was nevertheless the youngest of Edmund's children and one that nothing was expected of. His love of the Church had meant all had expected him to become a Priest or Missionary, but Scotland's ex-communication in his youth had made that impossible. Domnall dismissed him angrily and then stared at Captain Kirk, the brash young officer who had captured Caesarea at Aodh's command and probably rightfully expected a commendation for doing so.
"Why did ye follow the order, Kirk," grunted Domnall.
"Prince Aodh made an order, sir, I did nae question it," replied Kirk, his face earnest. He was a man of promise, if a little prone to unconventional tactics, but Domnall had thought he was smarter than this... to declare war on the Turks?
"Nae, ye did nae question it, for such is nae ye place," muttered Domnall,"Please go, and take my thanks for performing ye duty for Scotland."
Kirk hesitated, unsure if he was being complimented or run down, then bowed and made his exit, leaving Domnall brooding on his throne. Domnall knew exactly why Aodh had decided on this course of madness, of course, because he hadn't realized that Domnall's position was so much higher than his now. In his mind, with Edward and Edmund dead, he was in a position of authority almost as high as Domnall and Nectan's, much as it had been for all his life. He only recognized Domnall as King of Scotland intellectually, he didn't yet truly understand what that meant. The same went for Kirk, if Domnall had been Edward he never would have followed Aodh's command without first checking with the King, and Aodh would never have come up with the idea in the first place. Now Domnall was left to clean up the mess, because in the eyes of his youngest brother, he was no Edward Canmore.
Adam Canmore read the letter with a bemused grin, how precious of his cousin to presume to order him about.
Dear Cousin, I regret that this should be the first correspondence between us, I have been remiss in not remaining in contact with you since you returned to Edinburgh with Uncle Alexander those many years ago.
I write in regards to the current standings of the Scottish Empire in our ancestral lands. Your father did great work for Scotland in throwing back the English and then taking control of their lands, forging a United Kingdom where once were four. My Father and our Uncle, the late King, were both saddened by Alexander's death, but I am saddened further by the lack of progress since Alexander's death. You have recaptured Rennes but done little else to answer the affront of Milanese aggression, and England still exists at Antwerp, castrated as they are.
The time has come to teach Milan the price of challenging Scottish power, Adam, and I am counting on you to spearhead the campaign to wipe them from the face of the Earth.
King Domnall Canmore.
"Do you think it wise to ignore a direct order from the King, darling?" Cassandra asked as Adam read out his reply to her, a long and boring letter thanking Domnall for his letter but noting that the political situation on this edge of the world was far different from the desert stretches of Egypt where the next closest nation was the sand-dwelling, backwater Moors. He went on to assure Domnall that Milan would be dealt with in his own way at a time when it was most to Scotland's benefit.
"Bah, he never gives a direct order, only makes suggestions," grunted Adam contempteously,"For all Edward's faults, he always was to the point. I used to beat Domnall Canmore about the ears in play, and I would do the same if he was here as a full grown man!"
Cassandra stared at the warty, pot-bellied, pale-skinned man in front of her and imagined Domnall as some sort of tall, leathery-skinned, taut and muscular warrior astride a horse. She chuckled inwardly, even as she murmured soft appreciation for Adam's bravery and might, and drew her "lover" down into the bed to show him how much he "truly" aroused her.
"Besides," chuckled Adam as he surrendered to his Mistress' charms,"It's nae as if he was Edward Canmore."
Domnall read the reply from Adam Canmore and gritted his teeth furiously. The man had dismissed out of hand what had been all but a direct order.... the temerity of him, the gall!
But he knew why, because Adam didn't see that Domnall had the authority to give him orders. To Adam, Domnall was still the young boy that Adam had beaten up at play in the courtyard at Cairo, not the King of Scotland, and certainly not Edward Canmore.
He wished, not for the last time, that he could go to Antioch and get advice from Nectan, which was surely what Edward had intended when he'd named Domnall his successor and Nectan the new heir to the throne. But Antioch was quarantined due to an outbreak of plague, and their only communication was via messages shouted down from the walls to messengers who then either took the message to its intended destination, or to another city where a bird could be sent on to the recipient. But he knew what Nectan's advice would be, what he himself had all ready decided to do. He'd come to the decision after several weeks of agonized thinking, looking for flaws in his plans, trying to find ways to minimise risk. Finally he'd come to the conclusion that it was a gamble he'd have to take, and laughed, knowing that Nectan would have come to the same conclusion himself almost instantaneously.
So he'd called for the man currently standing before him, a man who had always terrified him as a boy and still made him uneasy today. A man who - to his credit - stood before Domnall and was openly regarding him critically, rather than behind shielded eyes like everyone else. Domnall knew that the man found him wanting compared to Edward Canmore, but at least he was honest about it.... and he also didn't seem to care that Domnall wasn't Edward.
"I can guess why ye've called me here, my King," Fearghus Campbell - Master of Spies - said, a smile on his old face. He was the last of a generation almost gone from the world now, one that remembered a time when Scotland did not rule Egypt,"Ye need my help to gain the respect ye think ye need to rule this Empire."
Domnall nodded, ignoring the suggestion that what he was thinking was wrong, and leaned forward to whisper his reply, despite the fact they were the only ones present in his chambers.
"Aye, I want ye to find me what is left of the Mongols, and I want ye help to send them straight to hell."