Part 32: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 31Pope Maczeus was dying.
The 55 year old Hungarian Pontiff had proved a popular and competent ruler for the Catholic Church, and his true commitment to his faith had been a welcome relief following the "unfortunate" proclivities of his predecessor. But now word had come from Gille Calline the Balleol - Scotland's Chief Diplomat - that the Pope was in bad health and not expected to live much longer.
Surprisingly, Cardinal James the Unorthodox's public prayers for the Pope's recovery were also matched by his private prayers. Despite being strongly considered a favorite to succeed Maczeus, James himself felt no personal desire to become head of the Church. If God willed it to be so, then it would be so. If not, then he would continue his work as a Cardinal.
Such as the grim work ahead of him today.
On the lakeshore near Jerusalem, Cardinal James strode confidently through the thin grass towards the sandy shore where a group of filthy men stood glowered angrily at the Scottish soldiers standing near them. One in particular caught James' eye, a tall, thin, wild-haired and wild-eyed man, unshaven and defiant... that would be the one he was looking for, he had no doubt.
"Which of ye is Spartacus!" he demanded.
"I'M SPARTACUS!" roared the wildman James had marked, stepping forward.
"I'M SPARTACUS!" yelled one of the other prisoners, also stepping forward.
"NAE! I'M SPARTACUS!" yelled another, then another, all stepping forward. James noted the look of anguished gratitude on the wildman's face, obviously he didn't want them to put themselves at risk but he was gracious for their loyalty.
"Very well!" he cried,"With the power vested in me by God through his agents Pope Maczeus the Righteous and King Domnall Canmore, I accuse Spartacus of heresy against God and the Church! The punishment for this crime is burning at the stake!"
"He's Spartacus!" cried one of the prisoners, pointing at the wildman.
"Aye, that's the one, Spartacus!" yelled another, pointing at the same man. Soon all were yelling and pointing at Spartacus, whose face now betrayed only anguish. Several soldiers chuckled and James shot them a forbidding look, instantly quieting them.
This was no laughing matter; this was God's business he was about.
The English were back.
Captain Malcolm Hew cursed as he watched the remains of the English army disappearing into the forest East of Bruges. He had returned to sign off on a "ceasefire" between Scotland and Denmark, their "war" the result of Denmark's alliance with England, no battle between the two sides had ever taken place. But shortly after the Danish Princess left Bruges, the English had attacked and Hew been forced to fight them off.... and he'd had enough.
It had been a mistake to allow the English to lick their wounds at Antwerp after Alexander had cast them out of the Isles. But the proclamation of war by Milan, and Adam Canmore's own reluctance to risk losing the lands his Father had gained meant they'd been allowed to rebuild their strength. For the most part, England had wasted their opportunities, striking a foolish one-sided Alliance with Milan and throwing away their own scarce men in attempts on Bruges. But after England's King Godwine had realized Duke Puccio was using him, the Alliance had been broken and Godwine had thrown his trust in his best remaining General, Thomas Weste. Weste had ridden East into the lands of the Holy Roman Empire which was undergoing internal strife due to long term ex-communication and captured the cities of Hamburg and Frankfurt. Emboldened by an Empire that was technically speaking actually an Empire again, England had ridden against Bruges again. Captain Hew had fought them off and Weste had lead his army away, and Hew could all ready see what would happen next. He would send a letter to Adam Canmore asking for permission to ride against the English, and Adam would refuse, saying it was too dangerous in this time of war with Milan to leave Bruges' garrison under strength. The English would return to Antwerp, rebuild their strength and then come at Bruges again, and the whole cycle would continue endlessly.
"Like buggery it will," grunted Hew, then turned and stormed back through the gates of the Burges and straight to the palace. He gave quick, harsh orders and men rushed to obey as he called a messenger to come to him.
"Take this message," he instructed,"You will travel to York Edinburgh and inform Prince Adam Canmore that we have repelled an attack by the English. You will report that we have received information that the English General, Thomas Weste, is regathering his strength in the forests to the East, and a force of men is riding to find him. You will report that we mean to continue East until we find Weste, and put an end to his threat for good."
"Aye, Captain," saluted the soldier, then paused and spoke, knowing that he could speak plainly to Hew,"Prince Adam is likely to order ye back to Bruges as soon as he hears this report."
"Aye," nodded Hew,"Which is why ye won't be leaving for Edinburgh until the morrow. Now if ye'll excuse me, I've ordered the garrison to march, and I mean to leave within the hour."
It was a grey and foggy late afternoon in Antwerp when the sound of approaching thunder was surpassed by the thunder of approaching Scotsmen. As lightning lit up the sky, the fields before Antwerp revealed hundreds of the English's greatest enemies, marching in formation and banging swords and spears against their shields in time. Their faces were obscured in the darkness of the coming thunderstorm, but the English standing the walls had no doubt they would be cast in demonic grins.
At Captain Hew's command, catapults fired on the massive wooden gates of Antwerp and the English standing the walls. Men were sent flying off of the walls, screaming and burning as they fell to welcome deaths, and the gates smashed open as Hew gave the order for his men to enter the city, to show the English the correct way to take an enemy city.
As Scotsmen and English clashed inside the City Gates, General Thomas Weste hastily strapped into his armor - still dented from his recent failed siege of Bruges - and pulled himself up onto his horse. His Swordbearer passed him a sword, and he looked about as his men quickly prepared themselves as well, ready to ride to the aid of the men at the gate. Weste's eyes widened in surprise as he saw the King's Banner being lifted high, and then before his eyes rode the man himself. King Godwine, blood of William the Conqueror, rode his horse towards Weste, his armor polished to a high shine, his sword more ceremonial than functional.
"My King, I must insist you remain inside the Castle under guard," warned Weste,"The Scottish are being led by Malcolm Hew, a crude and barbaric man but an able Captain. Should he see your banner, he will direct his forces directly against you."
"I will not let this Scottish insult go unanswered," replied Godwine stiffly, and Weste recognized the man's infamous temper immediately. There would be no reasoning with him; all he could do was his best to ensure the King of England did not die.
"Very well, your Majesty," acquiesced Weste with a slight bow, the best his saddle could accomodate,"Then let us ride together as true sons of England, and finally take the opportunity to show these upstart Scots that there shall always be an England."
Together King Godwine and Thomas Weste charged their men into the Scottish Highlanders, and as Weste feared the moment the Scottish saw the King's Banner they charged in huge numbers towards him. Weste had hoped the sudden charge of so many horse into the front line of the Scottish would serve to break their formation and separate them from their fellows, but these men had been fighting the English and Milan for years and were well used to cavalry charges. They seemed to part and flow around the charging cavalry, and Weste saw once more the hardiness that had allowed them to break his constant sieges of Bruges. Scotsmen were stabbed, cut, pummelled, rode over and hacked at by the English, but where most men would fall and die, the Scottish stood back up and kept fighting, even when their life's blood was spilling from them or limbs hung limp and useless. They sang as they fought, and they laughed, and they mocked, and those that parted around the charge of the cavalry reformed like water around Godwine and his men, cutting Weste off from his King. Godwine roared and slashed about him, much like his Grandfather William had done before him. But where William had conquered, Godwine was conquered. His sword was torn from his hands, he was torn from his saddle as his fierce warhorse was brought down from under him, and the Scottish were all over him as his torn banner was crushed underfoot.
For King Godwine at least, there was no more England.
The thick pelting rain made the ground underfoot slippery, and Weste cursed as he tried to keep his horse on its feet. He watched his King fall and cursed angrily, both at the Scottish for killing his Monarch and the dead King himself for tossing his life away so carelessly. Raising his horn to his lips, he blew mightily and then roared at the men around him to rally, to ride with him against the Scottish flooding through the gate and push them back.
"YE FUCKING WILL NAE!" screamed Hew,"PUSH BACK YE BASTARDS! THEY'RE TRYING TO KEEP THOSE BONNIE ENGLISH LASSES FOR THEMSELVES!"
His men roared with laughter, Spearmen stabbing into the English Cavalry, knocking some down, pushing others back as they pushed back against the mass of soldiers in the Gateway and took control once more.
"SHIT!" screamed Weste, uncharacteristically coarse as he found himself surrounded. He slashed down at the Scotsmen surrounding him, twisting his head about as he took note of his men and their positions, and prepared to call a retreat so they could reform deeper inside the cit-
And then a rumble louder than the thunder of the clouds far above his head sounded, and a light brighter than the lightning periodically brightening the sky filled his eyes. The walls of Antwerp came crashing down.... directly on top of Thomas Weste.
Scottish Crossbowmen moved up to the breach in the wall and opened fire on the English on the other side, and the sudden bolts plunging into their flank while facing infantry at their front AND seeing their King and General die proved too much. The English broke and ran deeper into the city, pursued by the Scottish who chased whooping and laughing, unleashing the pent up rage of year after year of enduring sieges, assassinations and spying.
To their credit, the English soldiers of Antwerp fought hard and fought well as they made their last stand at Antwerp. The Scottish spoke well of the common soldiers, and even though they had no respect for the late King Godwine, they agreed that Thomas Weste had been a worthy foe. But the respect the Scottish showed the English would probably not have warmed their hearts if they lived, made as it was in a formerly English city, in formerly English taverns and inns, as they drank English beer and caroused with English women.
Antwerp was Scottish now, and all that was left of England was two small cities surrounded on all sides by the hostile Nations of Scotland and the Holy Roman Empire.
King Domnall embraced his twin brother warmly, then his younger brother with more reserve. He'd arrived in Antioch earlier in the day at the head of a large army, having left behind Baghdad in the capable hands of Dougall Inchmertyn, who had all ready had some experience assisting Aed Canmore govern Cairo. With news that the quarantine of Antioch was over, Aodh had received the summons to travel there to see his older brother, and then await the arrival of their King.
"Nectan, it does my heart good to see ye again," laughed Domnall. They were in Nectan's private offices, having had their public reunion in the Court and then attended "old business", and now Domnall could let his guard down and be less reserved.
"It does me good to see anyone again, brother," laughed Nectan,"That cursed plague was a nightmare, I felt a prisoner in my own Castle."
Domnall chuckled, then sat behind his Brother's desk and bade his brothers follow suit. They sat before him, and he leaned across the desk, his face serious now.
"We face a dangerous time, brothers," he warned,"In many ways the Mongols were less dangerous than Milan, they did nae use spies or assassins, they did nae hide and came at ye from the shadows. With the Mongols, ye could ken where ye enemy was and what he wanted. Duke Puccio sits his throne like a spider at the centre of a web, pulling strings and waiting to strike."
"And our own spider lies dead at the centre of its web," noted Nectan. Domnall nodded grimly, thinking back to the "old business" they had just completed. Fearghus Campbell - Spymaster of the Scottish Empire and perhaps the most frightening man any of them had ever met - was dead, having come to Antioch as his aging body failed him so he could serve Scotland one more time. He'd held on till Domnall arrived, and then imparted some final wisdom to both he and Nectan, Aodh forced to wait out in the corridor feeling useless and unwanted. The man had died peacefully and in luxury, which was barely the tip of what Domnall felt Scotland owed the man, and left the Spy Network strong and in the capable hands of a series of his trusted lieutenants.... but no one could ever replace the man himself.
"So what is ye plan then, brother?" asked Nectan,"With Adana in the control of the Papacy, we cannae march an army through to Iconium to finish off the Turks, but ye've come to Antioch for more reason than to see ye twin brother."
"It's true, ye ugly bastard," laughed Domnall, punching his brother good naturedly in the upper arm,"Antioch's port is why I'm here.... and Aodh."
"Me?" asked Aodh in surprise, having until now felt his presence here was merely a nicety,"Why me?"
"Because Nectan here showed ye war in the past," smiled Domnall, and Aodh felt a shiver run through his spine. His brother's smile did not reach his eyes,"And so did Father, and I, and Uncle Edward. But ye order to Captain Kirk to engage in war with the Turks showed me that ye did nae learn anything."
Domnall leaned forward on the desk and his smile grew wider, and this time it did touch his eyes... but his smile was full of malice.
"Ye're going to travel with me to Iconium by sea, Aodh," smiled King Domnall,"It's time to put Turkey out of its misery, and this time ye'll be taking an active part in the fighting."