Part 36: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 35The flickering light of their torches exposed impossibly smooth walls, etched into which were alien symbols that hurt the eye to look upon. Nevin frowned, he did not like mysteries he could not unravel, but these symbols were as beyond him as they had been beyond Fearghus Campbell and Edmund Canmore.
He followed Prince Aodh down narrow corridors and dusty floors marked by prints made by dead men, and though he was not a superstitious man, Nevin could not help but feel a chill run down his spine at the thought that he was walking in the footsteps of men dead from before the time of Christ.
"This path is etched into my mind for all time," Aodh whispered as he lead the way deep into the massive pyramid, one of the seven great wonders of the world,"I thought it the height of blasphemy to bury Father and Uncle Edward here.... until I saw the chamber."
Nevin said nothing, he knew about the chamber that served as the final resting place of King Edward and Prince Edmund of course, but he did not know what about it could have caused as devout a Christian as Aodh to overcome his objections to the blasphemy of burying his Father inside a place built by heathens hundreds, possibly thousands of years before the birth of Christ.
And then he saw it.
"By God," whispered Nevin, uncharacteristically shocked into revealing his thoughts,"That cannae be!"
"But it is," smiled Aodh, looking back over his shoulder with a smile.
The narrow corridor leading deep into the interior of the pyramid had widened to reveal the sealed entranceway to the burial chamber holding the remains of Edward and Edmund Canmore. The strange symbols of the ancient Egyptians adorned the walls here as all others, but set directly above the entranceway was a series of symbols that instantly stood out as recognisable, despite having been chiselled into the wall untold millennia ago.
The family crest of the Clan Canmore.
His name was Hew, he was a Captain in the Scottish Army, and he was at war with England.
Unfortunately, he was not his Father.
Malcolm Hew had been a crude, belligerent and - quite frankly - horrible man. Quick to anger, foul-mouthed and a drunk, he'd also been an excellent leader of men and the bane of what was left of the English Army. After killing King Godwine, Malcolm had received an angry message from Adam Canmore demanding he cease his aggression against the English. Malcolm had expected as much, which was why he'd ridden against Godwine before the expansionist-shy Adam could order him to stop, but even Malcolm hadn't been mad enough to ignore a direct order from the man known as Adam the Cruel for his harsh and paranoid leadership. But when word had reached Adam that his cousin - King Domnall - had wiped out Milan and personally killed the highly regarded (and hated) Duke Puccio, jealousy had forced him to order Malcolm to continue his campaign and end the English once and for all.
Malcolm had died as he lived, cursing, drunk and fighting. After making camp after heading out to meet one of England's few surviving marching armies, he'd gotten drunk with his most trusted commanders and gotten involved in a brawl amongst some soldiers over a gambling debt. He'd broken up the fight but then collapsed from a massive heart attack, and his son would never forget the last words of his father.
"Always get ye round in, son."
Now command of Malcolm's forces had fallen to his son, who had encountered a small force of English just north of Hamburg led by Jacob Townsend. Victory was almost certainly assured as Hew had almost five times the numbers of Townsend's men, but he kept in mind some more advice his Father had once given him while drunk.
"Dinnae think ye're such a clever bastard, son, or I'll thrash the shit out of ye."
"We outnumber them greatly, Captain," noted Hew's second,"We can overwhelm them quickly and make short work of this.
"Aye, and lose close to the same number ourselves," noted Hew,"I'll nae throw away Scottish lives needlessly. Note they have trebuchets and catapults but do nae want to leave their high ground to get within range of us. Send forward archers to open fire on them, and have our bombards fire on their frontline, we can fire on them from further range than they can on us. We'll do this the long way, and save some Scottish lives in the meantime."
His commander saluted and began to move away, but Hew called him back.
"Note Townsend's banner?" grinned Hew,"Have the bombards target it."
As the English milled about in confusion due to Townsend's sudden death, the Scottish archers and crossbowmen marched into range and opened fire. Bolts slammed through armor and shields as flaming arrows rained down from above, the flaming, oil-soaked rags wrapped around the arrowheads in turn catching their targets on fire. Captain Hew grinned fiercely, doubly so when he saw a bombard blast smash directly into the English spearmen, then into a trebuchet, shattering it. Everything was going exactly according to plan!
The English spearmen - tired of standing still and being slaughtered by crossbow bolts and flaming arrows while their own trebuchet and catapults fired to hit their Scottish targets - turned and ran to get clear, as the Commander of Townsend's stunned mounted bodyguard screamed at them to hold their positions. Seeing that they were beyond reason, routing in terror, the Commander cursed and ordered his men forward to take over their position. They had to hold the line while the catapults and remaining trebuchet found their range, once they had it then they could thunder down death on the Scottish, perhaps in enough numbers to get them to retreat. He felt a momentary satisfaction when he saw one trebuchet blast smash down into the Scottish infantry, but then he was cursing again as he tried in vain to protect himself from the deluge of crossbow bolts and flaming arrows bringing down his fellow Englishmen.
But as each volley came, there were less and less Englishmen to stand beside, and soon to his horror, the Commander of Jacob Townsend's bodyguard found that not only was there no Jacob Townsend to protect anymore, now there was no bodyguard.
Captain Hew watched as the remaining English broke and ran, and smiled.
"Should we chase them, Captain?" asked his Second.
"Nae, they are going to the same place we are," replied Hew,"We'll meet them at Hamburg, and send them on to meet the friends they deserted on the field this day."
His second saluted and marched off to order the men back to camp, while Hew smiled and basked in the afterglow of his first command victory.
The massive door lay open behind them, opened by a secret catch that only a small handful of men in the world were aware of. Aodh and Nevin stood inside the burial chamber of the Scottish Kings of Egypt, final resting place of Edward and Edmund Canmore.
And now Nectan Canmore, Edmund's son.
Aodh had reverently placed the urn holding Nectan's ashes into a recess in the wall above a bare stone slab and now knelt before it in prayer, while Nevin looked about the impressive chamber in wonder. Of course almost everyone had heard tales of the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, and the gigantic pyramids they had built to house their mortal remains, but it was another thing to be inside such a pyramid and witness the opulence and audacity of their design.
The Chamber was huge, seemingly far larger than Nevin's own knowledge of the corridors leading up to it suggested. The strange symbols - hieroglyphs they were called - covered the walls, and stone slabs were placed along the sides of the chamber, recesses set above them. Two of the slabs held marble coffins, the images of their occupants carved into them - Edward and Edmund Canmore.
"This chamber was empty?" asked Nevin, noting not only that the other eight slabs were empty, but covered in the dust of ages, they had not been disturbed.
"Aye," responded Aodh, not taking his eyes off Nectan's urn,"It was first opened by Father and Fearghus Campbell shortly after Edward had destroyed the Egyptian Empire, Father was fascinated by our family crest of course and wanted to know more, and it was Fearghus that found the hidden switch to open the seal."
"I wonder why it was never used?" pondered Nevin, more to himself, but Aodh answered.
"The ebbs and flows of different Egyptian dynasties saw "history" re-written more than once in these lands, no one lives today who knows the true lineage of their mighty "Empire". No one can even read these hieroglyphs, the best Egyptian scholars available to Father all professed to have theories, but none could adequately translate even a small section of wall, let alone master the language. All we ken is that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with being prepared for death and all Father could guess was that the people this chamber was meant for never had a chance to use it. Either they were wiped out in a war, or died far from the lands they believed they ruled."
"It cannae be a coincidence that ye Family Crest is on this wall," grunted Nevin,"There must be a connecti-"
"Father believed so too," laughed Aodh, standing and turning to face the Spy,"But even he had to admit defeat figuring out what. What connection could there be between an Egyptian Dynasty over a 1000 years in the past and the Clan Canmore in Scotland on the other edge of the world? The answer is none, of course, no man-made connection, I believe it is a divine sign that Father and Uncle Edward's Egyptian Conquest was blessed by God."
"God is too easy an answer for too many men, Prince Aodh," warned Nevin, his eyes suddenly cold and emotionless, his face blank and unreadable. Aodh frowned angrily, but Nevin continued before he could voice an objection or cry blasphemy,"There is nae wrong with being a believer, Aodh, but as Spymaster of the Scottish Empire ye must learn to question everything and look for answers where they cannae be."
Aodh's frown deepened, then he turned and knelt back before Nectan's urn. Aodh sighed and went back to looking over the maddening hieroglyphs, thinking to himself that Aodh would soon discover for himself the dangers of putting your faith entirely in God.
King Godwine had been a weak and ineffective leader for England, with his General Thomas Weste responsible for what few successes he had achieved for England. Despite this, his death had been mourned by the peoples of the English Empire, because he was one of the last in the line of William the Conqueror, the last great King of England. Now Captain Hew led his men towards Hamburg, ruled over by another of William's blood. Like William, Prince Augustine was a born conqueror, with just the right mix of aggression, diplomacy and tact to be successful both on the field of battle and the trials of Governance. He had ridden with his brother, Harry, to take Hamburg from the Holy Roman Empire and finally expand England's borders years after they had been driven back to Antwerp by the hated Scottish. He had ruled Hamburg ever since with an iron fist, with all agreeing that he was a fine man and a great leader, with the potential one day be a great King if the worst should happen and King Harry die. There was just one small problem.
Prince Augustine had become quite mad.
It had happened slowly, dismissed at first as eccentricity, then stress, then sickness. Now it was undeniable, the man who ruled Hamburg was for all intents and purposes a raving lunatic who believed the moon waxed and waned at his command and that birds carried messages across the wind for him.
Now as Captain Hew approached the city walls, Prince Augustine sat his horse and babbled quietly and merrily to himself as his commanders issued orders and prayed that today would be one of Augustine's "good" days. The walls were still being repaired from a recent failed attempt by the Holy Roman Empire to regain their lost city, and Augustine's commanders prayed that they would hold as the Scottish attacked.
An explosion rocked the city gates and Prince Augustine squawked in surprise, looking up at the sky and making cawing sounds like a bird as all around him the English Army braced for the Scottish. The gates had been blown open by their cursed bombards, and now thousands of the madmen were coming.
"Ride up!" squawked Augustine suddenly,"THEY are coming, I must be ready!"
His Commanders moaned in dismay, but the common soldiers cheered wildly at what they perceived to be bravery on behalf of their Prince as he rode towards the gate to wait for the onslaught of the baying, screaming Scottish Horde.
Augustine's bodyguard was quickly overwhelmed and brought down by the Scottish, Highlanders whooping with delight. It was one thing to fight the Milanese, to fight off the Danish, hell to travel across the world and wipe out Egyptians, Mongols and Turks.... but there was nothing like killing English!
Augustine sat calmly in the sea of Scots, smiling behind his helm. As his bodyguard were killed, his smile grew wider, and as the Scots surrounded him he nodded happily and cried out.
"COME TO ME MY FRIENDS! BASK IN THE LIGHT AND CATCH THE WIND! TOGETHER WE SHALL BE FREE!"
"Fucking crazy English bastard," muttered a Scotsman, and dragged Augustine down from his horse. As he fell, he gasped out his final words.
"Don't peck me, my little bird friends..... don't pec-"
"We're inside the city!" roared Hew,"Track down the last of their soldiers and wipe them out! Make Hamburg ours!"
In the aftermath of victory, Captain Hew sat in Castle Hamburg and shared a quiet drink with his most trust men. The city had been sacked, allowing the men to let off steam in the aftermath of wiping out Augustine and his men, but even now as his soldiers caroused and drank and sang, Hew had quietly moved men to guard the gates, workers to repair the walls and damaged buildings. He meant to have Hamburg defended even in the midst of reverie.
"Where is Captain Hew!?!" demanded a voice, and Hew looked up in surprise as a Royal Messenger entered the banquet hall, looking furious as he spotted Hew sitting in Augustine's former chair,"HEW! Why could ye nae have been in Antwerp, damn ye!"
"I am Captain Hew, what is the meaning of this?" demanded Hew.
"Prince Adam Canmore has decided that it is unseemly for just anyone to be leading his forces in his campaign against England," snapped the messenger, raising eyebrows at the table as Hew's commanders considered the suggestion that this was in any way "Adam's" campaign,"So I have been instructed to bring this offer of adoption into the Royal Family to Captain Malcolm Hew, but ye had to have moved on to Hamburg, and I've spent days trudging by horse through this horrible countryside instead of returning to London and civilization."
"Malcolm Hew?" grunted Hew,"Was my Father, I'm afraid ye're too late to offer him such an honor, he is dead."
"Oh for Go...." sighed the messenger, then quickly reviewed the formal note of adoption he'd carried with him,"It just says Captain Hew here, ye'll do fine, welcome to the Royal Family lad."
Hew blinked in surprise, then took the note and reviewed it quickly as the messenger tapped his foot impatiently. It did indeed only mention his Father by his rank and last name, with Adam Canmore's signature all ready neatly signed to the bottom. Grinning, he quickly signed his own name, and in so doing proved the lie to another piece of "advice" his father had once given him.
"Ye're a useless sack of shite, son, and ye'll never amount to anything."
Aodh frowned as his prayers for Nectan, Edmund and Edward were interrupted by the sound of footsteps echoing down the long pyramid corridor.
"Nevin, who is that?" he snapped,"The guards are nae to ever allow anyone but the Royal Family into the Pyramid. Nevin?"
He turned and looked, bewildered by the emptiness of the chamber tomb. Standing, he looked around, realizing for the first time that he was alone, Nevin was gone.... and the footsteps were growing louder.
"Nevin, is that ye?" demanded Aodh,"In the name of God I-"
He cut off as a shadowy figure stepped through the entranceway to the Chamber and emerged into the light cast by the torches Aodh had lit with the one he had carried with him. For a moment the combination of shadows, the hooded clothes of the figure and Nevin's disappearance had made Aodh fearful this was a trap, and the man an assassin. But when he stepped into the light, Aodh found himself facing something far worse.
"In the name of God indeed," hissed the Inquisitor, staring with distaste at the hieroglyphs chiselled into the walls all around him,"Prince Aodh Canmore, I formally charge you with heresy against the Catholic Church."