Part 31: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 30Captain al Adil sighed as he watched his men rushing into formation, preparing once more to defend the city of Baghdad from invaders. al Adil had led the rebellion that cast out the Papal Army that had been gifted the city by the Scottish, and then to the shock of all - including al Adil himself - they had repelled an effort by the Mongols to take the ancient city. But now the army that had conquered them so many years ago had returned, led by their new King fresh from his utter destruction of the Mongols.
The Scottish had returned to Baghdad.
On the massive stone walls, one Rebel Archer squinted down at the distant Scottish lines and slapping the man beside him on the shoulder.
"What are those strange black tubes?" he asked.
A moment later, he had his answer.
"GET OFF THE WALLS!" screamed al Adil,"Hold the ground behind!"
The archers charged down the tower stairs as the walls shook under the impact of thundering trebuchet and bombard blasts, hearing the terrible grinding of the seemingly indestructible walls of Baghdad collapsing.
"The Scottish are coming!" warned al Adil,"Stay behind the walls, make them come through the holes and slaughter them as they come!"
The archers positioned themselves behind the city gates where they had a clear view of the approaching Scottish forces but were themselves protected by the remains of the wall, and prepared to open fire as they avoided the blindly fired flaming arrows of the Scottish over the walls. The stomping march of hundreds of Scotsman could be heard from the other side of the wall, but the Rebels had the advantage of knowing exactly where they would be coming from, and they stood prepared to pepper the infantry with hundreds of arrows the moment they appeared in the hole in the city walls.
And then the gates to the city opened.
"THEY'VE OPENED THE GATES!" roared al Adil in disbelief as he watched the Scottish Crusader Knights charge through the doors and smash into the flank of the unprepared Rebels. Captain al Adil turned to a runner and harshly ordered him to send another unit of archers to flank the Knights and open fire on them, hoping that the Scottish would not be finished slaughtering their foes before the archers got into position.
"Prepare to ride," Captain al Adil grunted as he stared down Baghdad's narrow central street and watched the Scottish riding in force through the main gate, despite having smashed two large holes in the walls on either side of it,"We have to bottleneck them, create a killing corridor where their numbers are meaningless! Ride with me lads, we threw out their Pope! We held off the Mongols! We can defeat the Scottish!
They rode forward, al Adil gasping with relief when he saw the still relatively inexperienced Domnall had made the mistake of sending his trebuchets in on the vanguard. He'd obviously planned to smash and burn through the Rebels from afar, but now the lightly armored and inexperienced fighters that moved the trebuchet could be slaughtered AND create a blockage that would hold back the Scottish.
What al Adil forgot was that in war, death is only a sword strike away, no matter how skilled the hand that wields the blade. As he charged ahead of his men and smashed into the startled trebuchet operators, one Scot flung his arm out wildly slid his sword unknowingly between the joints of al Adil's armor, cutting him open and making the Rebel Captain scream in pain as he grabbed at his side and unbalanced his sword, pitching it over so that it collapsed on top of him, crushing his internal organs.
The Rebels were without a Captain.
"Retreat back to the square!" roared one horseman as the death of their Captain sent them into a panic,"We can hold them off there!"
The Rebels converged in the City Square, uncoordinated and unorganised as they waited for the Scots to come at them from two different entrances to the Square. As peasants stood alongside archers and cavalry fighting for their lives against the Scottish, a single unit of Spearmen organised themselves tightly together, their spears thrust out on all sides and shields raised, ready to make a final stand and die with honor rather than the mad, slap-dash deaths of their brethren.
"We die today, brothers," growled Sayid al Sadr, commander of the Spearmen. Flaming arrows spilled down on his men, but they held their place. Knights and Cavalry approached, but held their place,"But we die free men, slaves to no foreign power!"
Slaves or free men, they died nevertheless.
Winter in Italy.
Duke Puccio the Cunning sat in the great city of Milan, a fire roaring in his study. It was the blackest part of night, when all but thieves and the City Watch were awake.
And Duke Puccio.
Puccio rarely slept more than two hours; he was far too busy to waste time on such a mundane activity. Nights often found him wandering the halls of his Palace, or at work in his study at his great oaken desk, reviewing reports and maps, deciphering the inner intricacies of the diplomatic overtures of other nations both to Milan and its allies and enemies.
Tonight, however, Puccio was playing host to a succession of his closest and most trusted men, as he prepared to shift the focus of his war with Scotland. He was called Cunning for good reason, under his reign he had destroyed the once mighty French Empire and taken their lands for his own. Under his reign he had made Milan one of the most prosperous nations on Earth and given his people a lifestyle the envy of almost the entire civilized world. His natural contempt for religion had seen him clash with the Catholic Church and excommunicated by the Pope, but if the religious people of Milan were troubled by this, the wealth that made them fat kept them complacent. But Puccio's cunning had failed against the juggernaut that was Scotland, and his efforts to chip away at the border of the northern empire were now exposed as folly as Scotland turned its full attention too soon on Milan.
"Who would have thought that whelp Domnall would wipe out the Mongols," he grunted to himself after the latest of his appointments had exited his study. His anger was tinged with admiration though. Adam Canmore was a weakling and a fool, and loath to open up war against the power of Milan. But Domnall Canmore was a different matter entirely, an enigma who had shown no potential for leadership until the death of the near mythical Edward Canmore had seen him thrust into the role of King. Since then, Domnall had exterminated the Mongols, pushed the Turks back to the brink of extinction, and overrode Adam's reservations to push back against Milan and take THEIR cities.
He reviewed the latest message from his woefully inadequate spy network in Scotland's desert territories, cursing once again Scotland's mysterious Spymaster. Domnall had retaken the ancient city of Baghdad from Rebels who had taken it from the Pope, who in turn had received it from Scotland as a gift after they'd taken it from Rebels. Puccio had always found Baghdad's history fascinating, or rather its history as a political prize, and he wished not for the last time that he had a diplomat as skilled as Scotland's Gille Calline the Balleol. The man had all ready convinced the Pope that Scotland's decision to hold the city once more under their own control was in fact STRENGTHENING the Church's position in the Holy Land, because Scotland's armies were concentrated there and better able to defend it.
Puccio raised his head as the last of his appointed men entered his study, the man in question giving a silent, appreciative nod that Puccio had detected his entry. Virgilio de Palenza was a plain man, completely non-descript in every respect, which was what made him so dangerous. For the last 20 years he had been Puccio's personal assassin, and over the last decade a number of Scotland's Generals and Captains had fallen victim to his deadly talents.
"Virgilio," grunted Puccio, lifting his hand and allowing the assassin to kiss it, affecting boredom. The truth was that appearances were important, and he allowed the assassin this closeness to show that he did not fear him and held him as a person of trust. Of course Puccio trusted no one, but the appearance of camaraderie was a necessary tool of rule,"I have a new role in mind for you, one you must undertake immediately."
Virgilio nodded silently, and leaned close as Puccio explained his plan. He did not speak or question his orders, and when Puccio had finished speaking he simply nodded and left Puccio alone in his study. Milan's ruler smiled softly, Virgilio had much work to do over the next few cold winter months, while Milan would steadily build up the forces severely depleted in its failed attacks on the Scottish border which in turn had allowed the Scots to push so far forward over Milan's border.
"You caught me unawares, Domnall, bravo," chuckled Puccio,"But while you enjoy the desert heat of Baghdad and your brethren in the North hunker down for the Winter, my men will be working to bring down your ancestral lands.... and I will enjoy seeing Edinburgh burn."
The sky above Rheims was a thick grey, the ground blanketed in a thick layer of snow. A winter storm had left the streets deserted, and Bernardo Carbonetti sat in the banquet hall in the lavish palace where the French aristocracy had once indulged their every whim. 40 of his best men sat in the hall with him, feasting on venison and enjoying the heat of the roaring fire, glad to be in out of the cold. Bernardo meant to get nice and fat this Winter, which looked set to be a long and stormy one, and come the summer the garrison here would be reinforced by men sent by Duke Puccio. The Scottish had taken Paris and Angers but Winter would stop them in their tracks where the Milanese army had failed.
Bernardo frowned as he noted a guardsman enter the hall and move purposefully towards him. The city walls were lightly guarded due to the weather, and he couldn't imagine what would drive a guard out of his relatively snug and warm guard tower to travel the stormy, snow-laden city streets to the Palace. The man knelt beside Bernardo at his table and whispered frantically into his ear, and Bernardo's eyes widened before spraying food from his mouth with laughter. He thumped his mug against the table and his men stopped their laughing and talking to turn to face their Governor.
"Those mad Scottish bastards have marched through the storm on Rheims!" he laughed,"It seems they mean to freeze to death outside our walls!"
His men laughed, shocked at the idiocy of the Scottish. That they had made it as far as Rheims in the first place was astonishing, but city walls could not be successfully taken in a storm as ferocious as that blowing outside.
Outside Rheims, Morgunn the Boroundoun gritted his teeth against the cold, squinting through the wall of white before him looking for the monotony to be broken by the silhouettes of towers, walls and buildings. Scouts lead the Cavalry's horses by the reins, and the infantry followed in the tracks of the cavalry, even the hardy Highlanders struggling to resist the numbing effects of the bitter cold.
"There," grunted Morgunn, as a thick shadow that could only be the walls of the city suddenly loomed up before him,"Ride for the gates!"
He kicked the sides of his horse and it reluctantly pushed forward through the deep snow, his men following as the walls of Rheims loomed up larger and larger. A shout from the city walls could be heard dimly over the roar of the wind, but no arrows were fired down at Morgunn, there was no point. The strong wind would blow the arrows off course regardless, and visibility was too low to gain a good shot.... plus why bother? The Scottish brought no siege weapons and could not penetrate the walls even with them, they would die at the walls.
And it was at that point that the gates to Rheims groaned, shook and then opened inward.
"they what!?!" roared Bernardo in horror as word reached him.
"They have entered the city, my Lord," replied the Guard, desperation plain in his voice,"The Gates simply opened for them..... like magic!"
"Magic my ass!" screamed Bernardo,"They have a man inside the city who infiltrated the guard tower.... my God.... the Scottish have entered Rheims, how many are they!?!"
"It was difficult to count in the weather, my Lord," replied the Guard, trying to hold back his terror,"But we believe close to 800."
"No," gasped Bernardo in horror, then slammed his fist on the table,"TO ARMS! WE'VE A CITY TO DEFEND!"
The Scottish marched through the city straight down the main street of Rheims, feeling almost warm with buildings on either side of them blocking the harsh winds. In the white gloom ahead of them they heard the familiar sound of horses, armor and weapons and braced themselves for what they knew was coming.
And then Bernardo charged his men - few in number but still warm and well fed - against the all ready exhausted, cold and hungry Scotsmen.
"Drive them back into the night!" roared Bernardo as his fresh men slashed down from their horses at the Scottish standing in deep snow around them,"They'll not take Rheims!"
But the Scottish army's blood was up now, and in the rising battle fervor they felt their bodies move freely, as the Milanese felt the cold sapping the heat from their bodies. Bernardo's full belly now felt like lead, and his arm was striking down on the Scottish slower and slower, his horse staggering amongst the fighting men and horses in the deep snow, and then he was crashing down from his horse as the Scots overwhelmed them.
The Scots pushed on, entering the City Square as the Milanese Crossbowmen tossed aside their crossbows - all but useless in the storm - and drew swords to make a final stand. The Scottish crashed into them, seeing the palace beyond their enemies and warmth, food and shelter waiting within.
Morgunn the Boroundoun grunted as he slowly rode his horse over the corpses of the Milanese, holding his gut which pulsed with an unwelcome heat. One of the crossbow bolts that had been fired had hit its target, and by either providence or some dark design, it had been Morgunn who was struck.
"Who will lead the war now?" he grunted as he watched his men celebrating both their victory and gaining shelter from the storm, and then he fell from his horse and knew no more.
The Scottish did not stop with the conquer of Rheims though, the Fortress of Metz was even less defended than Rheims had been. With the storm ended, Captain Malcolm Hew took control of the forces following the death of Morgunn the Boroundoun and, in his usual gruff fashion, cut directly through Banchello Cremosano's token defence
Duke Puccio opened the "gift" from the Scottish and stared blankly at what was contained within. Reaching into the basket, he drew out the contents and place it on the table before him, eliciting a gasp from the Diplomat before him.
"What is... what is this?" asked the man.
"This is... this was Virgilio de Palenza," Duke Puccio said with a sneer, looking at the horrified expression on the decapitated head on his table,"He was my agent, and the Scottish have sent me a message."
He lifted the head, dropped it back into the basket and handed it to a servant who quickly scurried away, and the Duke raised an eyebrow at his Diplomat guest,"What the Scottish have told me is that I cannot defeat them alone, I will suffer the same fate as the Egyptians and the Mongols and be wiped out, or worse yet, the fate of the English and become as nothing."
"And you would bring US into this?" asked the Diplomat.
"I would give you a chance to save yourselves now," replied Puccio,"Scotland will not stop with the conquering of Milan, they all ready have a history of war with Sicily.... do you think they will look at your rich lands and not be tempted? Scotland is an Empire of expansion, their armies are commanded by Domnall Canmore now, no matter how far from us he is based.... things are different to when Adam Canmore controlled Scotland's ancestral holdings and Edward Canmore did not give it a second thought."
The Diplomat stared at Puccio for several moments, obviously trying to see through the intricacies and twists of whatever the Milanese Ruler's plans were. He needn't have bothered, Puccio knew he was far smarter than this Diplomat could ever hope to be, and he was offering him the pretence of a mutually beneficial relationship he could not afford to pass up. A friendship with Milan would open up trade potential, and Milan was a rich nation.
"Very well," said the Diplomat at last with a smile,"Venice accepts your offer of Alliance, Duke Puccio, may our two peoples work together for the mutual benefit of both."
"Indeed," smiled Puccio, even as he thought,"And may Venice prove an adequate shield to die in Milan's place."