Part 44: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 43For Scotland, the brave new era of peace lasted six months.
Aodh was woken in his bed by a harried servant instructing him that the King was calling for him, and he cursed under his breath as his wife woke and stared at him with concerned eyes. He had been absent from her life for great periods of their marriage, but since the Sicilians had been wiped out he had been able to devote more time to being a husband and a father. They had grown closer in these last six months than in the entirety of their marriage, and all ready he could see her fearing that this midnight summons would once more take him from her.
Dressing hurriedly, he strode down the corridor after the harried servant, Nevin appearing from the shadows and falling in one step behind him. Aodh was long past pondering how the man could seemingly appear from nowhere just when he was needed, always appearing fully awake and alert no matter what time of the night. Once Aodh had asked when he slept, and Nevin had replied cryptically,"When I'm dead."
"What is going on?" Aodh asked, not calling him by name as was their custom whenever anyone else was present,"I assume ye ken... I assume ye're the one who brought the information to Domnall."
"Spain," muttered Nevin,"It seems their angry King is also surprisingly crafty, they've laid siege to Algiers and Cagliari."
"WHAT!?!" spluttered Aodh, then forced himself calm, forced himself to think as quickly as possible about all the possibilities," Why crafty? It is madness to attack any fellow Catholic nation, especially Scotland. He'll bring the wrath of the Pope on Spain... nae to mention the wrath of Domnall, which may be worse."
"Ye'll ken soon enough," replied Nevin,"For now, the King waits."
The servant opened the door to a room not often used in the last six months, the War Room. Once Duke Puccio the Cunning had discussed military maneuvers against Scotland from here, but now Milan belonged to Scotland, and for now it was the home that Domnall had chosen for himself, situated as it was roughly halfway between his childhood home of Cairo and his ancestral home of Edinburgh. Domnall waited inside, surprisingly alone, Aodh had expected advisers, strategists and military commanders to be here as well.
"Those bastard Spaniards have ruined my peace," Domnall hissed angrily,"Ach Aodh, that clever bastard Mallobo has finally done what nae one else has. He's figured out how to put Scotland on the back foot in a War."
Aodh approached the large table in the centre of the room where battlefield maps of varying detail could be placed. The usual map of the world that showcased Scotland's holdings had been replaced with a more detailed map of the Northern African coast and the Southern European Coat. Markers showed where Spanish forces had laid siege to Algiers and Cagliari, but it was not those that grabbed his attention... it was the navy markers.
"Oh that clever wee bastard," whistled Aodh appreciatively," We cannae reinforce our troops or break the siege, can we?"
The Spanish had broken their massive naval fleet into two armadas and moved one up the Eastern coast between Angers and Caen, the other just South of Toulouse. They were in position under the control of three Admirals each and a multitude of Captains, perfectly placed to sweep over any ships that the Scottish tried to use to send reinforcements to Cagliari or Algiers. Spain's King Mallobo had come to the realization that while he could not defeat the Scottish by pitching his forces against theirs in traditional warfare, he could control the waters around Scotland's holdings, and thus control the supply of reinforcements. Scotland's own fleet was of a respectable size, but scattered across much of the world, and any attempt to rejoin them would put them at risk from the Spanish. Without aid, the Scottish Garrisons could not hold out and the lands would fall into the control of the Spanish. The only non-naval way to get reinforcements to Algiers was by an overland march across the harsh desert climate of Northern Africa, the coastal cities of which were lightly garrisoned due to the long stretch of Aodh's recent campaign against the Sicilians. In the blink of an eye, Aodh saw this and recognized the implications... unless Scotland found some way to overcome Spain's naval superiority, they would lose lands to Spain. Spain's reputation with the Pope would be severely dented, but they would be in a position where they controlled Scottish land while they rebuilt their reputation.
"Ye're supposed to warn us before things like this happen!" snapped Domnall at Nevin,"What use is telling us about it after it happened? How did they get the jump on ye!?!"
"Zaragoza," replied Nevin simply.
"Zaragoza," hissed Aodh, closing his eyes and lowering his head as he cursed his own stupidity.
"Zarawhoza?" grunted Domnall angrily,"Dinnae mind me, I'm just the King, nae need to let me in on ye little codewords."
"Zaragoza is a city on the Spanish/Scottish border," Nevin spoke smoothly,"Spain are creative in overcoming their shortcomings, as their naval maneuvers indicate. Unlike Dego di Spina and Puccio, Mallobo has realized that he cannae operate a wide-ranging spy network without it being infiltrated by our own... and Zaragoza was his answer. It is a closed city, a military city in all but name, governed and guarded by the most trusted of Mallobo's men, the one place in the world the Spy Network cannae reach. It seems to me that all of the planning for this War was done at Zaragoza, and likely where all commands will originate from this point."
"Then we sack Zaragoza!" snapped Domnall angrily,"The Pope will nae like it, Spain is one of the more Catholic of the Catholic nations, but we can make amends at a la-"
"Think of the Spanish Fleet by Caen, brother," warned Aodh,"Any army to march on Zaragoza would by necessity come from Toulouse, under the command of Dougall Macdonchie. That would leave our cousin Adam as General should the Spanish unload an army at Caen or Angers... he is a brave man despite his lack of battle experience and cruel nature, but he is nae an able General.... and the death of any Canmore would be a massive morale boost for the Spanish and a devastating blow for the Scottish. His father Alexander is still considered a folk-hero in our ancestral lands."
"DAMMIT!" roared Domnall angrily, sweeping the markers off of the map,"THEN WHAT DO WE DO!?!"
"We do what ye once advised me to do, when I was younger and had nae idea of the true nature of war," Aodh replied calmly,"We dinnae leap in and attack at the first presented opportunity, and we find a way to kill our enemies and save our people."
Domnall nodded, and together the two brothers and the Spy sat up long into the night to discuss a different kind of War than Scotland had ever faced in its history.
Fearghus Makmartane had never expected his life to end like this.
He had been plucked from the luxury and political intrigue of the Cairo Court by Aodh Canmore and thrust into war for the first time in his life. Along with fellow Nobles both liked (Eoin of Midlothian) and despised (Ian of Moray) he had killed Moors and then been given the "gift" of becoming Governor of Algiers while his fellows went on to kill Sicilians. He hated the dusty, sandy streets of the "city", he hated that most of the soldiers under his command seemed to like and get on well with the former Moors who were now technically fellow Scotsmen... he just hated the place.
And now he was going to die defending it.
The Spanish had ridden from the East and laid siege to the city against all reason, risking the wrath of the Scottish Empire. Fearghus had not been concerned, though, believing that within days reinforcements would arrive from Cagliari or Tunis, or possibly even Genoa or Milan. To his horror though, today he had received word that the Spanish had cut off even possibility of reinforcement, and due to the foresight of their General - Agosto de Leon - the Spanish would not even have to wait to build siege equipment, they could attack with the catapults they had brought with them.
"My Lord," suggested Fearghus' Knight Commander,"It looks grim."
"Oh aye, that seems an accurate description of our situation," sighed Fearghus,"They'll break down our walls and slaughter us.... that could be considered grim."
"Aye my Lord," nodded the Knight Commander, apparently missing the sarcasm,"But.... what if they had nae catapults?"
"What are ye ta..." started Fearghus angrily, then trailed off as he realized what the man meant,"Oh... aye I see what ye mean."
Suddenly he burst out laughing, shaking his head in disbelief at the lunacy he was about to agree to, two years ago he would never have believed this could happen.
"Aye, why not, eh?" he laughed,"We're all going to die anyway!"
Agosto de Leon sneered with pleasure as he looked over his troops, resplendent in their shined and polished armor, the finest troops of the Spanish army. He was a man who took great pride in appearance, and put great stock in perception. It was not enough to be victorious in battle, he meant for his men to look heroic as they did so, he could all ready see the glorious paintings that would mark this battle, he even had a name in mind,"Agosto at Algiers."
"CATAPULTS!" he roared, making sure to give his voice an authoritative timbre for the benefit of his biographer,"FI-what the hell?"
His command cut off and his eyes widened as the last thing he'd expected happened.
"The CATAPULTS!" roared Agosto in horror as he and his men stared in disbelief at this completely unexpected turn of events, realizing what the Scottish were doing,"KILL THOSE SCOTSMEN! KILL THEM!"
"TURN BACK!" roared Fearghus, his heart thumping at what felt like a 1000 beats a minute, his body tingling in delayed shock as he realized the audacity of what he'd just done. He'd ridden with careless abandon against the catapult archers because he'd convinced himself he was going to die anyway and he might as well go out in a blaze of glory. But as they'd cut down the last of the catapult operators he had realized that without them, the Spanish might not take Algiers after all... it was possible he could survive this, he could live for decades longer! HE COULD LIVE!
The Spanish had overcome their shock and were moving in against the Scottish cavalry as they turned to race back to the gates of the city. As Fearghus and his men started to move, Scotsmen on the walls roared out encouragement and cheered for their escape, delighted with the audacity of the attack and the unexpectedness of its success.
"RIDE! RIDE!" cried Fearghus, laughing with incredulous disbelief, he was actually going to do it, he was going to li-
The Scotsmen on the walls cries out in dismay as they saw their General fall, but despite this a good number of his men did manage to pull clear of the Spanish, riding back through the city gates which thundered shut with finality behind them. The catapults were now without operators, and the only hope the Spanish had of breaking through the gates was a hastily constructed ram built more as a matter of form than for any use.
"BRING UP THE RAM!" roared Agosto, lifting his sword high and pulling back the reins of his mount so that it reared up dramatically on its hind legs,"We will smash our way through!"
Quickly his men moved to comply, sweat caking their hair to their heads and dust and sand clinging to their previously shiny armor, causing Agosto to grit his teeth angrily. Everything should have been beautiful and dramatic, like in the stories and songs that had infatuated him as a child. He watched as his men grunted and pushed the heavy ram along the loose sand, and then let out a volley of curses as the worst thing possible happened.
Agosto sat, mouth agape as he watched the ram burn and collapse while his men milled about, confused. He looked up at the high walls of the city, barely dented by the few catapult blasts they had managed to fire off. The gates were secure, the walls impenetrable, and they had no way of breaking through to the Scottish inside.
"Retreat," he whispered, and when his men seemed not to have heard and continued to mill about, he shouted it louder, his voice cracking and breaking as he felt shame burn through his body,"RETREAT!"
As his men wheeled about to follow his orders, the final indignity took place. The Scotsmen stood laughing and mocking as they turned to leave, and then one cried out,"Are we just going to let them turn tail and run, lads? GET THEM!"
Knowing that turning to fight would be futile, as the Scots would only be able to retreat to the safety of their city once more, Agosto bit his lip in frustration and ordered his men to move faster, and the first battle in the Scottish/Spanish war ended in farcical fashion.
As the Spanish disappeared into the desert, the Scottish cheers and laughter died as Fearghus' body was carried to his Knight Commander. The Scotsmen lowered their heads in respect, and the Knight Commander stared grimly at his fallen General.
"Shall we organize his return to Cairo, Commander?" asked a soldier.
"Nae," grunted the Knight Commander,"He died defending this city, let it serve as his tomb. I think he would have wanted it like that."
And thus, Fearghus Makmartane was buried with honor in a city he hated, for dying heroically while trying to flee from the enemy so he could live to leave it.