Part 41: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 40Dougall rubbed his hands together against the cold and stamped his foot against the solid, dead ground. The lands around Toulouse had been razed to prevent the sieging army from gaining any sustenance from the countryside, and the forbidding stone walls of the city set against the battered and beaten land created the impression of a mausoleum.
Toulouse was a City of the Dead.
The Army had arrived three days earlier and Dougall's Siege Engineer had immediately taken control of the construction of the machinery that would bring down the walls and shatter open the gates. Dougall had set about doing what could be done with the barren land, setting up camp, creating patrols and guards and digging latrines.
Now as the early morning fog rolled out, Dougall raised an eyebrow as he heard the distant sound of music, while a soldier approached with a bemused expression on his face.
"My Lord," the soldier said with a grin,"Adam Canmore has arrived."
Dougall nodded, then watched with wide eyes as Adam led his small contingent of troops to join the sieging army.... as well as his retinue. A thickset dog trod protectively at the side of Adam's horse, and Dougall could only surmise it had been riding in the wagon that held Adam's other possessions for the greater length of the march. A bard skipped about beside Adam's bodyguard, singing merrily of the "Brave March of Adam Canmore" and the upcoming "Glory at Toulouse". A Fool capered along dancing, flipping and cackling madly between the horses of two serious looking unarmored men who were casting critical eyes over the siege camp.
"At least he left his Mistress at home," sighed Dougall under his breath, then forced a wide grin onto his face and marched forward to greet the Scottish Prince.
"Dougall Macdonchie," smiled Adam with a thin smirk that didn't touch his eyes, staring down at the man from his horse,"Hero of the Milan Campaign, Governor of Milan during my cousin's recent mourning, and now leading the siege on Toulouse.... I remember when ye were but a lad that I sent out to fight the Milanese."
"I have always appreciated the faith ye showed in me, my Prince," replied Dougall courteously, and bowed deeply before Adam. The Prince had a reputation for cruelty but Dougall knew from his time at the Edinburgh Court that Adam was anything but stupid. He used cruelty because he feared he was not as respected as his late Father, Alexander, who was also known as the Savior of Edinburgh,"My heart lept with joy to hear ye would honor the siege with ye presence."
"Ye've killed so many Milanese ye absorbed their snake-like tongues, Dougall," grunted Adam, then let out a short bark of laughter,"We'll see if ye retained enough of ye Scottishness that ye can remember how to kill."
Two Days Later
Dougall sat his horse and stared down the long lines of his men. Their only horse were his bodyguard and Adam's, the bulk of their force made up by Scottish Pikemen, archers and crossbowmen. Two bombards would break open the gates of Toulouse easily enough, and it seemed from what he could see that the walls were undefended, Papero Galliano obviously seeing them as a lost cause and hoping to convince Dougall to engage his men on the ground at the gate. Let it be so, he had faith in the quality of his Pikemen against the Sicilian's Norman Knights.
Dougall noted Adam watching him carefully and knew the Prince was judging him. The last two days had been a nightmare as he handled bowing respectfully to Adam's wishes and maintaining the best interests of the siege. Adam had demanded his own Siege Engineer and Military Engineer take control of building the siege towers and ladders, and Dougall had capitulated while at the same time moving forward plans to abandon taking the walls and instead blasting through the Gates with the Bombards. The trick then had been convincing Adam that using the Bombards was HIS idea, which luckily hadn't taken long. Adam was not impressed with the roughness of life in the Siege Camp, and the idea of drastically reducing the time spent there was fine by him.
This morning he and Adam had met with their Commanders and Donchadh Makgullane, a talented spy who had intimate knowledge of the interior of Toulouse. As they had discussed their battleplans, word had come that the Sicilians had abandoned their defence of the walls all of a sudden, which had finalized the decision to use the Bombards on the gates and send the Pikemen in.
"All right lads!" cried Dougall, ready to launch into a passionate speech to fire up their blood and impress Adam Canmore,"The time has co-"
"Shit!" he cursed angrily as Muslim Archers suddenly rose up from their hiding places on the walls of Toulouse and fired into his Bodyguard,"Pull back! Bombards, FIRE!"
Bombard fire blasted into the wall beneath the Muslim Archers and Dougall cursed.
"Nae! NAE! FIRE ON THE GATES! PIKEMEN, MARCH!"
"So this is battle, eh?" grunted Adam to the Commander of his Bodyguard,"I somehow felt it would be more.... ordered."
The Bombards corrected and fired on the Gates, blowing them into twisted chunks of metal, and Scottish Pikemen quickly pushed forward towards the entrance to the city. On the walls, the Muslim Archers cried out warning to the soldiers below, and this time they abandoned the walls for real as they prepared to defend the smashed gates of Toulouse.
Amongst the Pikemen rushing the gate were two brothers, William and Thom. Both had been educated in hopes of marrying them into one of the many Noble Clans with large numbers of daughters but few sons.... maybe even to one of Domnall Canmore's daughters. But the two had quickly discovered that ancient links to the nobility and education alone was not enough to guarantee acceptance into higher Scottish society. Money was also a prerequisite, and so the two had joined the campaign against Milan and served under Dougall Macdonchie, then assisted in the capture of Milan under the command of King Domnall himself. The spoils of war had given them both some money, but more than that it had given them a taste for war and something money could not buy... the goodwill of the King of Scotland, who considered them and the other men who had survived the Milanese Campaign as veterans and true patriots.
As the Pikemen marched through the gates of Toulouse, William barked with laughter, this was going to be a slaughter! They had three times the men that Papero Galliano did, they were the finest fighters in all of Scotland, they could not lose!
And then the first group of Pikemen through the gate were smashed into on both sides by the Sicilians, as Papero's strategy became clear. He meant to block the first unit of Scots inside the gates, preventing others from breaking through, and turn the courtyard into a slaughterhouse.
It was going to be a slaughter, but William realized to his horror that it was not the Scottish who would be doing the slaughtering.
The Scottish behind the Pikemen dying in scores shoved and pushed in an effort to break through, but the Sicilian Knights were like men possessed, lent almost supernatural strength by their passion as they struck down Scotsman after Scotsman. Some Sicilians lept bodily into the Scottish, swinging swords and screaming incoherently, their eyes rolling back in their heads and froth spilling from their open mouths. They were like animals, and as William stood back to back with his brother and fought against them, he wondered what could have invoked such passion. They were at war yes, but this reaction was something different to all his experiences on the battlefield, even when he'd faced down the last of the Milanese at Duke Puccio's last stand. The Sicilians fought as if they'd surrendered their humanity, as if they'd sold their very souls.
"Crossbows, Archers!" roared Dougall,"Get up behind the Pikemen and see if you can cut down the Sicilian Knights! Make an opening for our men!"
"This seems.... different," muttered Adam, riding up beside Dougall,"How are the Sicilians holding back so many of our men?"
"I dinnae ken, my Prince," hissed Dougall,"The Sicilians have always been mad.... but these seem insane."
The Crossbowmen charged up, hundreds and hundreds of them, but they could find no angle to fire on the Sicilians, and their own men were too bunched up to risk firing and hitting. They milled about uncertainly outside the gates to Toulouse, watching helplessly as the trapped Scottish Pikemen fought desperately against Sicilians that had become ferocious armored animals, fighting on despite bloodloss, loss of limbs and injuries that should have killed or at least incapacitated them.
"Ahhhhhh SHITE!" screamed Thom as a sword struck his arm dumb and he dropped his sword, William twisted and struck his own sword into the Sicilian's belly, and gaped in wonder as the man screamed in hate and clawed his hands at him.
"PISS OFF!" roared Thom, punching the man in the face and knocking him out, causing him to slide off of William's sword. Thom scooped up his sword as William quickly decapitated the next Sicilian to come at them, and then they were back to back again as the Sicilians kept coming, all of them like the ravening madman that had almost killed Thom moments before.
"We're for it this time, William," grunted Thom, and then unbelievably he began to laugh. William's eyes widened at his brother's laughter, but then his own humor overtook him, and he too began to laugh.
"Oh aye, who'd have thought we'd survive war with Milan only to die in a French City defended by Sicilian madmen!" he hooted.
"Nae, nae today," laughed Thom, and raised his voice,"HEAR ME LADS, I'LL NAE DIE AT THE HANDS OF MADMEN! THESE SICILIANS HAVE LOST THEIR MINDS, BUT I'LL NAE LOSE MY MANHOOD BECAUSE OF IT! ARE WE NAE SCOTSMEN? THEN LETS SHOW THE SICILIANS WHY SOLDIERS ALL AROUND THE WORLD CALL US DEMONS!"
"AYE!" roared William in agreement, still laughing,"WHAT ANIMAL CAN STAND BEFORE A DEMON? FIGHT BACK, LADS! PUSH THROUGH.... PUSH THROUGH FOR SCOTLAND!"
"FOR SCOTLAND!" roared the surviving Pikemen, and with a burst of adrenaline and howls of laughter they stopped trying to merely survive the Sicilians and turned their minds to destroying them.
Nearly 400 Pikemen had entered the Gates expecting to wipe out the Sicilians, now barely 50 remained, but now it was the Sicilians who had to fight to hold them back, and their own inhuman rage had been surpassed by the laughter and determination of the Scots. Something in the Sicilian Knights broke, whatever had pushed them beyond the bonds of human endurance fled, and they turned and ran.
"We did it lads, we did it!" roared Thom in delight, throwing his arm around his brother's neck in delight,"We showed those Sicilian basta-"
His voice was cut off by the sounding of a horn, and the gaze of the surviving Scottish Pikemen fixed on the Sicilian Knights riding on horseback under the banner of Papero Galliano, who rode at their head. They were fresh, their rolling eyes and frothing mouths indicated they were as mad as the Dismounted Knights the Scots had already fought through.... and they were coming right for them.
"NAE!" screamed Thom in desperation as he saw William fall beneath the hooves of a Sicilian horse, and then his vision turned red as he plunged against the Sicilians and swung his sword in a fury, while others about him tried desperately to use their previously discarded pikes to hold back the horses. But the Scottish were exhausted from their desperate battle with the Dismounted Knights, and the fresh horses and insane men riding them began cutting down Scotsmen with brutal, haphazard strokes of their own blades.
Soon all the Scots had fallen, Thom lying gasping amongst the dead as his vision finally cleared and he found himself lying bleeding from cuts all over his body, his armor red with the blood of Sicilians, Scotsmen and himself. The Sicilian Horses milled about uncertainly, the Sicilian Knights riding them staring about seeming confused. Their eyes were dilated, their mouths dry, their skin burning to the touch as they panted far more hoarsely than their exertions warranted. They had cleared the interior of the Gates, and Thom stared with despair through the twisted remains of the gate to outside, where hundreds of Scottish Crossbowmen still milled uncertainly, holding back from entering Toulouse. Why? Why weren't they entering? Why had they abandoned..... and then he had his answer.
"SCOTLAND!" roared Dougall Macdonchie, charging his men into the side of Papero's. Beside him rode Adam Canmore, looking bewildered to be in such an unfamiliar position, but also feeling strangely.... exhilarated? Yes... exhilarated. Was this how his Father had felt in battle? This thudding of the chest? This prickling of the skin and quickening of the breath? He slashed a sword clumsily to his side and it buried into the side of a Sicilian's neck, and Adam felt another rush of excitement... he'd just killed a man with his own-
"RARRGGGH!" screamed the Sicilian and swung his sword at Adam, who pulled back in his saddle and watched in horror as the blade passed inches from his face.
"FUCK!" screamed Adam, pulling his sword free and then bringing it down with all his strength on the Sicilian's face, cutting into the metal of his helm, crushing his nose so far back into his head that it drove into his brain, causing the man to fall limply from his horse. Adam sat panting roughly, then a huge smile cross his face as he whispered in awe,"..... fuck."
The Scottish Cavalry swept through the gates and over the Sicilians, who fought with the ferocity their Dismounted brethren had shown earlier. But this time the Scottish were not trapped in place, and it was they who surrounded the Sicilians. This time Knights fell from their horses despite their apparently inhuman ability to keep fighting, and Dougall roared in triumph as he saw Papero's banner crumple and the man himself fall from his horse.
Dougall and Adam's men made short work of what was left of Papero's Cavalry, and finally came to a stop as they realized that the walls were finally, finally theirs.
But at a huge price.
"Get those Crossbowmen into the city!" demanded Dougall as he looked about at the carnage in the streets. This battle had been a disaster so far, and he blamed himself despite the bizarre resilience displayed by the Sicilians. All he wanted now was to end it, Papero was dead but Sicilians still held the city itself, all they had gained for so many lives was the walls.
Thom dragged himself to his feet and stumbled through the dead bodies of Sicilians and Scottish alike, looking desperately for his Brother as he noted the depressingly small numbers of his fellow Pikemen who had survived, less than 10. He found his Brother's body and dropped to his knees, biting back tears as he stroked the side of his beloved Brother's face and wiped away the blood on his forehead.
"Oh William, why couldn't it be me?" he moaned.
"Aye," grunted William, opening his eyes,"I was always better looking."
"YE BASTARD!" cried Thom in shock and punched his brother's shoulder, and William laughed through a wince,"I thought ye were dead?"
"Death wouldnae feel so painful," groaned William,"Help me up, that Sicilian bastard's horse did a number on me, I dinnae ken what is still there."
"Only one thing is important, and I'm nae feeling for that for ye, brother or nae!" smiled Thom, and helped his Brother to his feet.
Adam cleaned his blade off and looked about him smoothly, noting the business like way that his men and Dougall's intermingled, securing their position as Dougall barked orders at the Crossbowmen entering Toulouse through the shattered gates. He cast his eye along the interior wall of the city and noticed a glint of armor in the distance, and slapped his Bodyguard Commander on the shoulder,"What is that?"
His Commander squinted his eyes, then frowned before crying out,"More enemy! It may be the archers that fired on us before the battle was joined!"
Dougall rode his horse forward, ordering his men into formation as he fell in beside Adam, who kept his face smooth while trying to hold in his delight at the prospect of more battle. For so long he had fought war through proxies and on maps, and the visceral delight of actually participating was more than he had ever dreamed.
"If they are archers, the curve of the wall will prevent them accurately gauging a range on us, while our own archers can fire blind knowing they will nae hit us. Once we turn that corner, my Prince, prepare to charge, archers do nae wear heavy armor, and our horses will bring them down quickly."
The Muslim Archers did not share the unnatural vigor of their Sicilian Knight counterparts. As the Scottish rode over them, the survivors promptly turned and ran, moving quickly through the winding streets of Toulouse as Dougall and Adam led their men in pursuit, leaving their own archers and crossbowmen far behind in their eagerness to finish the battle.
They charged uphill after the fleeing archers, and then suddenly more horses appeared from over the hill, lightly armored Sicilians on fast mounts speeding downhill towards the surprised Scotsmen. Dougall tried desperately to pull his horse up, but the speedy Sicilian horses were all ready amongst them, their riders swinging swords with quick efficiency, cutting down Scottish Knights that could not react as quickly and were all ready tired from hard fighting with Papero's Knights.
Dougall gritted his teeth against the pain as a Sicilian sword slashed deeply against his side and he felt blood flood out of him. He reached out with a swiftness that surprised his attacker and grabbed the sides of his head, twisting violent and snapping the man's neck, causing him to fall from his horse which rode on past the battle and into the streets of Toulouse. He clutched at his side and stared about in frustration as he saw his Bodyguard savaged by the speed of the Sicilian attack. All ready the fast Sicilian horses had turned and ridden back uphill, waiting for the Scottish to come after them so they could launch another quick attack.
"Dougall, you've been wounded," noted Adam, riding his men up to join what was left of Dougall's Bodyguard. He'd fallen behind in the pursuit of the archers, and as a result had not been victim to the lightning quick attack,"How many are there?"
"I believe these are the last, my Prince," grunted Dougall as he clutched his side, concerned at the continuing steady flow of blood,"They ken they are doomed, but mean to kill as many of us as they can... the Sicilians in this battle have acted in a way beyond any strategy, they have been men possessed."
"Well how do ye plan to end it then?" asked Adam, looking pale as his gaze kept dropping to Dougall's side, as if the sight of another Nobleman bleeding had reminded him that he too was mortal.
"I command here, my Prince," grunted Dougall,"And I will be the one to put an end to this battle. I will ride with my men against the Sicilians and let them engage with us, and their speed and manouverability will mean they will decimate us. But we will hold them in place while ye lead yer men into their sides, and once held in place they will be no match for ye."
"But.... that will mean ye death," muttered Adam, as if Dougall had not considered this.
"Aye, my Prince," winced Dougall, clutching his side and feeling his vision graying. He forced himself to sit up straight, and saluted Adam,"It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve the Canmores. Men, RIDE!"
"ARE YE MAD!?!" screamed Adam, grabbing at the reins of Dougall's horse as his men rode up ahead of him.
"What are ye.... what are ye doing?" groaned Dougall as he felt his vision fading.
"Saving ye fool life," snapped Adam,"Ye're too good a General to throw away on some mad pretext of noble sacrifice!"
He pulled Dougall's horse away and ordered his men to follow as Dougall's own bodyguard struggled against the lightning raids of the Sicilian Riders. Dougall tried feebly to protest, but his strength was fading too fast, and he cursed lightly to himself that Adam had cost him a chance to die in battle, rather than bleeding to death as he was led away from battle like a feeble old man.
"What now, my Prince?" asked Adam's Bodyguard Commander as they reached the base of the hill,"The Sicilians still hold the Castle."
"Now? Patience now," replied Adam curtly,"Every soldier is so bloody determined to die in glory. There are roughly 30 of those Sicilian Riders, and a handful of archers past them. We have hundreds of crossbowmen and Highland Archers marching through the streets now. We wait for them, and then we kill these Sicilians from afar.... I'll nae waste another Scottish life to the Sicilians today."
And so the battle of Toulouse ended, not in glory with the clashing of swords and horses, but with the buzz of crossbow bolts and flaming arrows fired from afar, and the screams of Sicilians gutshot and left to die on the ground where they fell.
But no more Scots died that day.
Adam settled down behind Papero's desk.... or rather, his former desk, and looked through the papers on his desk, taking a voyeurs delight as he was lent insight into the mind of another man, even if he was dead. Toulouse was now in the hands of the Scottish, and though it was Dougall Macdonchie who had commanded, Adam knew it was him who had won the day.
He picked up a loose leaf of paper with the broken seal of the King of Sicily and perused its contents idly, then sat up straight as he read on. His eyes widened as the implications of the document sunk in, and he quickly shot out of Papero's chair and shoved his way out of the former Governor's spacious quarters in search of Dougall Macdonchie.
He found him in the throne room, where he was angrily allowing a Doctor to work on the wound he had taken in his side. He would live, much to his shock, and Adam knew that the man would always believe he owed his life to Adam's actions... and thus be his man once more. But such was not his concern now, not after reading the contents of the last missive Papero Galliano had read.
"....used a derivative of Thorn Apple," Dougall's Doctor was saying,"Likely they didn't ken where they were, let alone what they were doing. Even had they defeated us most would have died from the exertion the drug causes, I cannae understand why they'd subject themselves to-"
"I do," grunted Adam, interrupting the Doctor and thrusting the message under Dougall's nose,"Read this."
Dougall blinked in confusion, then did as he was bid, and his mouth dropped open in shock.
"Why did we nae..." he started.
"The message must have arrived this morning, after ye man Donnchadh returned to give ye his briefing," Adam explained,"That will be why they suddenly changed their battle strategy..... ye ken what this means, Dougall?"
"Aye, aye I do," nodded Dougall,"We must get word to the King..... my Prince, this changes EVERYTHING!"
Adam nodded, if anything Dougall was underestimating the impact of the message.
Scotland was about to face a challenge unlike any King Domnall had ever known.