Part 4: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 3Edmund rode through the gates of Jerusalem, his religious fanatics following close behind babbling excitedly at being in the Holy City. Bodies had been cleared from the major thoroughfares, but only the Scottish had been taken away for funeral preparations, the rebels were simply stacked in giant piles, to be moved later. He frowned at barely guarded gates, but noted with approval that looting appeared to have been at a minimum. Madmen the religious mercenaries might be, but at least they knew enough not to loot and burn their own city.
For such it was, the Pope had ordered Jerusalem be retaken by Christian hands, and they had done so. But it was the Scots who had taken the city, while other Nations gathered forces and prepared ships to take them across the ocean. Providence had been kind to Scotland, the mad decision to abandon the North of England and travel to this Godforsaken Desert had turned into a boon, and now the mighty city of Jerusalem was theirs.
Edmund entered the City Square to find the bulk of the army lined up around the edges, men parting for his bodyguard when they saw who he was. At the centre of the square, the leader of the mercenaries - a Hospitaller Knight of St John - was kneeling before Edward, and presenting to him a small object on a red cushion.
"Behold!" cried the Hospitaller,"The Crown of Thorns!"
A gasp rose up from the assembled fanatics and Knights, while Edmund and Edward's Scotsmen exchanged surprised and wry looks.
"The Crown of Thorns, eh?" chuckled Edmund to himself,"I think I plucked a piece of the true Cross from my arse last week."
But Edward accepted the "Crown" from the Hospitaller with due reverence, and turned about holding it high above his head, every one of the Crusaders following it with adoring eyes.
"I am a King!" cried Edward,"But I am nae the King of Kings! I serve he who died at the hands of those who lived in this very city, and it is in his name that I claim Jerusalem for God and Scotland!"
The Crusaders cheered, as did the Scots, and Edmund wondered who cheered for God and whom for Scotland.
"So I ask ye now," continued Edward, his voice clear and travelling across the square,"With the Crusade done, will ye return to ye old ways? Will ye go back to waiting for the Pope to call ye to arms? Or will ye come with me, and retake the rest of the Holy Lands in the name of God and Scotland? Will ye become good Catholic Scotsmen!?!"
And as the assembled men roared their approval, Edmund remembered what his old mentor had often stressed to him as a child. While Edward had spent his youth learning the skills and strategies of War at the expense of a wider education, the eldest son of Malcolm III was, in fact, a genius.
Crown Prince Nasser was young, but already recognised as a promising tactician. Control of the capital Cairo had been left to him as his Father travelled to Gaza to explore options to repel the mad Scottish invaders that had killed the former King and then taken Jerusalem from the Rebels which had plagued his late reign. With a sizeable force to dissuade the Scots in Alexandria, Nasser was in no danger, but his Father saw that the young Prince could learn much from running their mightiest City in his absence, and as Faction Heir it was important he gain that knowledge now.
But now Nasser saw a different chance, to gain back some of the prestige lost to Egypt when the mad Scots had killed Sultan Al-Mustansir and taken Alexandria. His agents had intercepted messages between the Scots in Egypt and those in their accursed homeland, and it seemed that family politics were finally coming to a head. Nobles in Scotland had demanded their King recall his sons from their adventures in Egypt and capture a rebel settlement in Scotland called Inverness. With the Princes lust for blood and glory apparently sated by the sack of Jerusalem, they and a large portion of their army had boarded a ship and set sail for the Holy Roman Empire, where they would be rewarded for their Crusade by the Pope before travelling back to Scotland. Alexandria was still too well defended, but there were reports of riots in Jerusalem and a stretched garrison of cripples, youths and criminals its only defence. Nasser saw the chance to make a move now, to recapture Jerusalem before the Rebels could gain control again AND bloody the nose of the Scots in the bargain.
Time was of the essence, he knew this, and his studies had taught him that sometimes taking a measured approach was not the wisest course. Some situations called for bold action, and so it was that without first conferring with his military advisors or sending a message to his Father in Gaza, Crown Prince Nasser sent the bulk of his force in Cairo to lay siege to Jerusalem. He gambled high, leaving only a tiny garrison to protect Cairo, reasoning that the city itself would prove able defence against the nearest possible Scottish force in Alexandria, which itself could not be emptied for fear of an attack by Moorish rebels.
The night that Nasser heard word that his forces had laid siege to Jerusalem, he retired for the night feeling that things could only get better from this point on for him, and for Egypt.
"Edmund, I've done it!" laughed Edward, as his brother entered his office high in the Palace of Cairo. The battle for the city had been more of a chase, as they'd climbed the walls after appearing out of the desert where they'd lain in hiding to see if Nasser took the bait. Then they'd thundered through the streets after the terrified garrison, running the men down and killing another Egyptian noble. Edmund wished he could feel proud of his plan succeeding in gaining them Cairo, but the slaughter had been anything but glorious. At least it had broken the siege of Jerusalem, as the Egyptian King had gone into a panic at the death of his Son and called all his forces to his side.
"Done what, brother?" asked Edmund with a grin, as always infected by his brother's good mood,"Convinced Patrick to return to Scotland?"
"Chance would be a fine thing," chuckled Edward,"Nae, after taking Cairo I wrote letters to various Kings, Merchants, Noblemen and the Pope himself.... Edmund, I've succeeded in gaining recognition of Cairo as the Capital of Scotland!"
"Ye..... ye what!?!" gasped Edmund, shocked almost speechless,"But.... but Edinburgh...."
"Is nae more our home now than London or Rome," laughed Edward,"Come Edmund, we dinnae even notice the heat anymore, can ye imagine us suffering another Scottish Winter? Or Summer?"
"Father will still get his messages and his contacts and his reports," snapped Edward dismissively,"They won't agree to call me King Edward just yet, though they have taken to calling me the Scottish King of Egypt in Rome, so I hear."
Edmund took the pile of notes that Edward had been holding and scanned them himself, frowning as he read assurances from various persons of importance that from this point forward, international diplomatic notes of import would be sent to Cairo as well as Edinburgh. Edward was right, it was essentially recognising that Cairo was a Capital of Scotland, and it was a great victory for him, but it changed nothing on their Father's behalf, he was still the King of Scotland. Still, there was no point in dampening his brother's cheer, and he forced a smile and clapped Edward's shoulder, congratulating him.
"Oh aye tis a great day," smiled Edward, settling down at his desk and frowning at the paperwork,"I must say I dinnae envy Father the papers and the writing that come with being King.... I'm just glad I have ye to share the load with me, Edmund."
"The Scottish Kings of Egypt, aye," smiled Edmund.
"They talk of me as King," muttered Edward, going through his papers with an air of distraction,"But it has always been the two of us, I'd nae have taken Alexandria without ye, and we'd never have cleared Cairo and taken it without ye."
"Let them call you King, Edward," smiled Edmund,"The people need a figurehead, and since you took Jerusalem the people have called ye everything short of Jesus himself."
"Aye Jerusalem," smiled Edward, then frowning as he noted something in a report he didn't like,"A wonderful battle that, I felt like God himself the entire time, directing the troops, taking the walls, conquering the Square...."
"Oh, all you was it?" laughed Edmund, though he was being serious. Since the taking of Jerusalem, Edward had been widely acclaimed for his piety as much as his ability to command a battlefield, and the man himself seemed to have gained a Road to Damascus conversion, talking openly and often of the importance of faith,"What about Jesus then? You said you claimed it in his name?"
"Who? Oh Jesus, right," grunted Edward with a dismissive wave of his arm as he signed off some papers, then muttered under his breath,"Good lad that Jesus, always gets his round in."
"Aye, brother," said Edmund with a smile, and left the King to his work.
The time had come, the decision had been made, and now the sons of Scotland rode to war once more to put an end to Egypt once and for all. The once mighty Nation had been reduced to Gaza, and found themselves now flanked by Scottish cities on two sides - to the West was their former capital of Cairo, and to the East the Holy City itself, Jerusalem.
As always, Edward and Edmund rode together, accompanied by an odd collection of the troops that had fought with them throughout the desert since their fateful arrival at Alexandria. Religious fanatics dedicated to the extermination of heathens, hard as nails Highlanders, Scottish spearmen, Sudanese swordsmen and unmounted Knights, all moved with a common purpose, to put an end to Egypt. As the two brothers discussed their strategy, a messenger arrived bringing warning, two small hosts of Egyptians were approaching, one led by Tulun of Taba, whom Edward had desired to kill since their first encounter.
"Allow me to approach them," suggested Patrick MacDougall, who to this day still seemed convinced their presence in Scotland was a temporary madness,"Perhaps I can reach some kind of agre...."
"Unless that agreement includes Tulun castrating himself," warned Edward,"I'll hear nae more from ye."
MacDougall had learned enough at this point to hold his tongue.
The two sides met at a point directly halfway between Gaza and Cairo, the Scottish outnumbering the Egyptians by a third. By this point, Edward was a far more capable Commander than his first meeting with Tulun, but numbers and geography conspired against them once more as Tulun stuck with his normal strategy of attacking, retreating, attacking and retreating. Finally, after his fellow Commander's army had been all but decimated and three quarters of Tulun's own forces had been wiped out, the Egyptian called a retreat, having satisfied him that he had gained a firsthand insight of the make-up of Edward's forces.
Two days later, as the Scottish Army moved closer to Gaza, another force approached from the small city, but this one was far larger. This time when MacDougall begged for a chance for Diplomacy, Edward reluctantly agreed.
He returned only a few hours later looking very pleased with himself, and explained himself to the Brothers. He had met the leader of the Army, one Captain al Mahdi, and quickly determined that the man was a nobody, someone the Egyptians felt they could safely lose. He'd offered the man a bribe to lead his Army anywhere but there, knowing it would be refused, but creating the impression that they were concerned by the sheer size of the army.
"He and his Army are castaways, throw-offs," explained MacDougall as, for the first time, Edward listened in rapt fascination,"Kill al Mahdi and the rest will break and run, they are here simply to be a bump in the road, to give the Egyptians time to prepare defences at Gaza..... I think this bodes well for us, my Lord, it suggests the forces in Gaza are neither numerous or of quality."
"Then we kill al Mahdi," replied Edward cheerfully, standing up,"There are nae many Egyptian soldiers left, we may as well kill them while we still can."
With al Mahdi gone, the Scottish army finally approached Gaza, making camp within a day's ride of the city as Edmund waited for word from his Agent. Upon receiving it, he was forced to read the documents several times before he could believe what he was reading, and with a heavy heart he approached Edward's tent.
"Ye've made contact then?" asked Edward.
"Aye," sighed Edmund,"MacDougall was right, the Egyptian army is all concentrated here, and they're neither numerous or of quality.... but there is a problem"
He showed Edward his documents, notes taken by his most trusted spy, Fearghus Campbell. They detailed the defences and make-up of the Egyptian garrison, and they made for worrying reading. There was close to 1200 of Egypt's best soldiers ready to defend Gaza, but that was not the source of concern. The problem was that Tulun's mounted archers would be able to make use of the city streets to safely attack from great distances; the gatehouse was far too well defended for Fearghus to infiltrate and open in the event of a siege; and the walls would be swarming with soldiers ready to repel any attack. Gaza was perfectly designed to repel a siege.
"It's now or never then," muttered Edward,"We cannae let ourselves come this far, gain so much, only to fall at this last obstacle. Soon we lay siege to Gaza, and at the end of the battle, either Egypt will no longer exist.... or Father will be the undisputed King again and have two sons less to worry him."