Part 40: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 39Adam Canmore walked around the massive skull, trailing his fingers along its polished surface with a slight smile on his face.
"Ye found this.... in the ground?" he asked.
"Oh aye, my Lord," nodded the old farmer eagerly,"My boys dug it free and my girls polished it up. We were going to have it mounted at the local pub when we received word that ye wanted to see it."
"Fascinating," muttered Adam, crouching and peering through the head-sized eye socket,"What manner of beast made this?"
"The wife thinks it is a giant, Lord," offered the farmer hesitantly,"I think it looks more like a dog's skull myself, but I dinnae ken what those tubes at its front are for."
"I thank ye for indulging my curiosity," Adam said suddenly, standing up and tossing a small sack of florins to the farmer,"Ye may do with it as ye please, it would look good mounted on a pub wall."
The farmer bowed and thanked Adam gratefully as his two large sons silently lifted the giant skull up and carried it away, Adam smiling as he watched them go.
"That man farms a plot of land where historians say Harry Byrne defeated Vortigern," noted Adam's old tutor, Malcolm, who still served as the Noble's adviser,"Legend says Byrne had a pack of giant hounds with fangs that curved up from their mouths and trampled Vortigern's men into the ground, this may have been one of them.... my Lord, the Canmores can trace their ancestry back to Harry Byrne, ye could claim that skull by right."
"Aye," chuckled Adam,"Or I could claim it by right of Governance regardless of Harry Byrne, who fucked his way into the bloodlines of half the peoples of Scotland if the legends are true. Nae, let them have their oddity, and let them remember that I let them keep it and gave them coin besides. I have been thinking lately that ruling with an iron first instils fear through loyalty, when it would be better to instil loyalty by love. My brother Aed is beloved in Cairo because he treats the people well, makes seemingly random gifts to them, and is always certain to be seen when performing "heroic" acts.... perhaps he has something to teach me."
A messenger entered the court and saluted Adam, presenting him with a sealed envelope. Adam broke the seal and drew out the missive, raising an eyebrow as he read its contents.
"And now a chance to be seen being heroic," he chuckled,"Dougall Macdonchie is riding on Toulouse and has invited me to complete the task my Father did nae complete, I believe I shall accept.
"Ian Mensies has died," muttered Nevin, running his finger over a coded message.
"I met Ian many times," mused Aodh as he slapped away his manservant's hands and tightened the straps on his armor,"He was a kindly man, always with a kind word."
"Aye so his family believed too," nodded Nevin,"He was also a heartless, cold bastard who helped Scotland bring Empires to their knees.... though I doubt there will be any mention of such in his eulogy."
"Is there anyone's secrets ye dinnae ken, Nevin?" asked Aodh as he relented and allowed his manservant to make a final check off his armor.
"Only those that are nae important to ken," replied Nevin flatly,"I ken little about the personal lives of Captain Enrico and Vitale who ye'll be fighting today, but I do ken that their men are amongst the best Norman Knights in Sicily and will nae surrender Tripoli without a fight."
"Good," grinned Aodh, and pulled on his helm before striding out of his tent into the desert sun.
"Men of Scotland!" roared Aodh as he rode his horse past the last two Nobles not yet given positions of authority in recently conquered cities - Allan of Nairnshire and Eoin of Midlothian - and brought his mount to rest at the side of his bodyguard,"What is the name of that city!?!"
"TRIPOLI!" roared the men.
"Men of Scotland, who controls that city!?!"
"SICILY!" roared the men.
"Men of Scotland, whose is Tripoli's TRUE master!?!"
"SCOTLAND!" roared the men in approval.
"THEN TAKE IT FOR SCOTLAND!" roared Aodh.
"FOR SCOTLAND!" roared the men, and charged up the hill towards Tripoli.
Noble Cavalrymen rode through the gates of the city, blown open by blasts from Bombards, and wheeled left directly into a unit of waiting Sicilian Knights.
"Backs against the wall men!" screamed Captain Enrico,"Their horses can't break through us or get around us! We can fight them man for man!"
The Scottish rammed against them, but Enrico's strategy was sound, they were able to hold in place and drag the horses to a halt, forcing the Scottish to fight from horseback without being mobile, making them into large targets. Sicilians died, but so did Scotsmen, and soon a natural barrier of dead was rising up between the two groups.
"BRING UP THOSE SUDANESE!" roared Allan of Nairnshire, who found himself in the unfamiliar position of being outnumbered by his enemies. Quickly, Sudanese mercenaries jogged between horses and bodies and drove into the Sicilians, assisting the Horsemen in killing as well as protecting them from attack. With the reinforcements, Enrico found his men dying quickly, and himself surrounded by Scottish and a wall at his back preventing him from running.
As the last of Enrico's men were cut down, a fresh unit of Knights emerged from the dusty streets of Tripoli while from the Eastern end of the city came a defiant cry as Captain Vitale led his personal unit of Knights foward, hoping to trap the Scottish in a vice at the gate and prevent reinforcements from breaking through.
But as Allan reformed his men amongst the corpses of Sicilians, Sudanese, Scottish and horses, Eoin of Midlothian rode his cavalry through the gates and spotted the approaching Sicilians. He lifted his sword and ordered the charge, and they rode directly into the unprepared Knights, thundering them down and causing them to turn and run in panic, directly into Vitale's men.
"BRACE MEN!" roared Vitale,"THE SCOTTISH ARE CO-"
A Scottish horse rode directly into and over him, and his men cried out in dismay, leaderless and in disarray as roaring, laughing Scotsman rode through and around them, cutting them down.
A final unit of Unmounted Norman Knights marched down one of Tripoli's narrow and dusty roads, watching with blank faces as they saw their countrymen cut down. Eoin's horses would not be able to ride wide and surround them, and they were braced to absorb a charge. None of the Sicilians expected to win the fight, but they mean to take down as many Scotsmen as they could.
And then Eoin's horses stepped aside, and made room for the men the Sicilians would actually be fighting.
"Oh..... shit," grunted the Sicilian Knight-Commander, and then the long arm of the heavily armored Scottish Pikemen came down on them. They held for mere moments, desperately slapping at the pikes with their swords, watching their companions die around them, and then their noble intentions to stand and die in defence of their city disappeared as their survival instincts kicked in and they turn and ran.
Chased all the way by the Scottish.
They retreated to the outer courtyard of Tripoli's imposing fortress, turning as their panic faded and they realized that they would HAVE to stand and fight. The Scottish Pikemen marched on them, as behind them came the thunder of hooves, as Aodh Canmore joined Eoin and Allan to put the Sicilians to the sword.
With the battle done, the majority of the army was set free to sack the city, a necessary release of tensions for the men as well as an effective way of recouping the cost of the Sicilian Campaign and cutting down on the numbers of the surviving Sicilian civilian population. Aodh did not take part, and handpicked men to go about the garrisoning of the city, so that when the rest of the army was sated there was someone left to restore order.
As darkness fell over the city, Aodh stood in the forbidding fortress that dominated Tripoli and stared with cold eyes over a world map. Scottish blue marked almost half the world now, with large swathes of North Africa now in hi... in Scotland's command.
"-" started Nevin of Shetland from his position in the shadows, but before he could properly begin Aodh spoke over him.
"Sicilians have blockaded Tripoli's port," he said, and allowed a small smile when he was answered with silence before Nevin stepped out of the shadows with an appreciative nod,"And I ken ye were there 30 minutes ago."
"An hour," corrected Nevin, and it was Aodh's turn to nod appreciatively,"And the Sicilians marching on Tripoli are the least of your concerns. Ye ken that Adam Canmore is marching to join Dougall Macdonchie in siege of Tripoli."
"I am nae concerned with my cousin Adam," replied Aodh with a sneer,"He'll play at General then return to Edinburgh to lose himself between his mistress' thighs, and allow her to continue ruling the city through him. I have no fear of his superior age putting him above me, I am still heir to the Scottish Throne."
Nevin nodded, conceding the point, but he wasn't done,"Ye also ken that the Spanish were grossly insulted by ye capturing Cagliari from underneath them, and that was compounded by ye Brother sending them away empty-handed."
"I welcome the Spanish," grunted Aodh, stroking his fingers over the portion of North Africa still not marked in Scottish blue,"Let them break our Alliance, the lands they hold were rightfully Scotland's, my Father should have been the one to conquer them, now I shall do so in his stead."
"Ye also ken, my smart Lord," sighed Nevin,"That ye sometimes forget that there can be such a thing as too much confidence."
"Nevin ye are trying my pati-" started Aodh, and then gasped as he felt an arm around his neck as a large hand pinned his arms behind his back. He coughed as he was lifted bodily into the air, feeling the air being choked from him. Then he was suddenly sent crashing down into the table, spilling the map over onto the floor as he lay coughing and gasping for breath.
"Ye ken I was there because I let you ken," Nevin whispered gently, crouching down besides Aodh,"And ye were so focused on me ye did nae notice who else slid past ye guards undefended."
Turning, still coughing, Aodh stared up at the large man standing over him. His hands were large, his body well muscled, and his eyes black soulless pools.
"This is Farquar Makfulchiane, the deadliest assassin in the Scottish Empire," whispered Nevin,"He is here because a Sicilian Priest has been preaching of ye wickedness and soulless nature since ye took Tunis, and he was poisoning the people against ye."
"Wh.... why," gasped Aodh, and Nevin knew he was not referring to the assassination of the Priest.
"Because ye've been TOO successful, my Lord, ye were growing arrogant," Nevin warned,"A good Spymaster must also show caution and respect for the threat posed by his enemies, even if it is an improbable threat. Fearghus Campbell could balance caution and daring, confidence and respect.... ye must learn to do the same."
Nevin stood and extended a hand, helping Aodh up. The Prince turned to say something to Makfulchiane, and his eyes widened when he saw the man was gone, having not said a word the entire time. He turned back half expecting Nevin to have disappeared too, but the Spy simply stood waiting.
"Very well," Aodh gasped, rubbing once more at his throat,"I accept it, perhaps I have been too overco... too arrogant. Ye have something else to tell me."
"Aye," nodded Nevin,"Ye Brother has set sail from Genoa, at the time he meant to land at Tunis but word will reach him of ye victory here. The King has always kept his own counsel, but word is that he is nae pleased to have heard of ye unauthorized aggressions."
Aodh nodded, absorbing the information, and finally he answered.
"Aye Nevin, the Sicilians I can handle, Adam I can ignore, the Spanish I welcome..... but my Brother the King? THAT may be a problem."