Part 45: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 44Ian of Moray led his small force of men through the pre-dawn darkness quietly, musing on the odd turn of events in his life that had brought him to this place. He'd been born in Moray, youngest son of a noble family fallen into bankruptcy years earlier, and retreated to the only career available to so many like him, the army.
He'd worked his way through the ranks to Captain and distinguished himself on the battlefield, capturing the attention of a Noble General, Allan of Midlothian who took him under his wing as a battlefield mentor. When Ian had saved Allan's life, the man had adopted him into his family as so many had done in the past, but with a twist.
Because Allan of Midlothian was the husband of Afraig Canmore, daughter of the legendary Edward Canmore.
He found himself unexpectedly lifted to the station of Cousin to King Domnall and Prince Aodh, though distantly through levels of marriage and adoption as opposed to blood. As such, Afraig had dictated to her husband that Ian must learn the ways of Court, and he'd been sent to Cairo and thrust into an entirely different battlefield, court politics.
He'd instantly taken a disliking to - and been disliked by - Fearghus Makmartane - despite the fact that Ian's "Brother" Eoin got on well with both men. Perhaps it was because Fearghus had married Florie of Perthshire, the daughter of Feredac the Chivalrous who had been one of Edward Canmore's adopted sons, and he saw Ian's closer tie to Canmore blood as a threat? He wasn't enough of a politician or a student of court intrigue to know, maybe Fearghus simply didn't like him? He'd struggled at first but found Aed Canmore a kind and friendly ruler - beloved by the soldiers under his command, the nobles under his rule and the people of his domain - and learned from observation of the Cairo Governor how to behave, when to talk and when to be quiet.
Then Aodh Canmore had come to Cairo to lay his Brother Nectan's ashes to rest, and thrown Cairo into an uproar by declaring he was going to lay siege to the Moors final stronghold at Algiers, and he was taking Cairo's Nobles with him. Ian had found his life gone full circle as he returned to the battlefield under the command of a Noble of higher birth. Under Aodh's command they had crushed the Moors, then taken the war to the Sicilians and wiped out that crumbling Empire as well. Ian once more discovered the benefits of service in the field, as he was given control over the beautiful coastal city of Tunis alongside Domnall Campbell, a young man who he'd been pleased to mentor, seeing he was even fresher to the notion of politics. Campbell had married his wife out of love, but she was the daughter of Comgell of Carnavarane, one of the legendary Generals who had fought in the Mongol Wars with Edward and Edmund Canmore. As such, the young man had soon found himself thrust into politics when the haze of wedded bliss was still on him, and Ian had been happy to ease his transition into his new world.
But now that had changed, the Spanish had broken the blissful peace that had followed the destruction of the Sicilians. Fearghus Makmartane had surprised Ian by dying in defense of Algiers, saving the city from the Spanish but leaving it without a ruler. With the Spanish controlling the ocean, King Domnall could not organize to send one of his handpicked Generals like Rory of Shetland or Dougall Macdonchie. So the message had come by bird only two days earlier, Ian was to become Ian of Algiers, and rule it as Governor.
"My Lord," noted a Scout quietly, riding up to join the small force of mounted soldiers Ian was leading,"I have discovered an outlaw band moving towards us."
"Deliberately?" asked Ian.
"Nae my Lord, our paths are diverging by misfortune, not design. They are on foot and number 150 by my reckoning.... almost four times our number."
"Dammit," hissed Ian angrily,"Our path to Algiers takes us directly through them.... how long a delay can we expect if we ride to the coast and make our way to Algiers that way?"
"Two days perhaps, if we push the men," mused the scout.
Ian frowned... two days? He could brook no delay, but nor could he risk leaving Algiers' newest Governor lying dead in the sand. What the hell was he supposed to do?
Said smiled as the sky lightened, his band of Nubian Spearmen had made good time through the night on their trip to the coast. If they kept up this pace, they would reach their destination within a day, giving them plenty of time to relax before the pirates would land to sell them their supplies. The Outlaw Captain may live in a desert, but he made his life as comfortable as possible. The pirates were bringing fine spices and foods, medicines not available in the desert and a few luxury goods for Said's own personal use. Plus they would bring news; it was good to know what was going on in the world.
"Captain," muttered Said's personal bodyguard,"What is that?"
Said looked up into the foggy pale light of the rising dawn and frowned... were those lights? He felt his throat tighten as memories of vague superstitions crossed his mind, was this early morning magic or monsters?
He shook his head clear of such foolishness, he was a grown man now, and besides he could see vague shapes forming in the mist as the lights grew closer. He saw now that the fog had reflected the lights and made them appear larger, and what he saw coming into view was even more unexpected than a monster.
"Scottish Horsemen?" chuckled Said in disbelief,"There can't be anymore than forty of them? Are they mad?"
"They approach slowly, Captain," noted his Bodyguard.
"Perhaps the intend to surrender to us?" chuckled Said,"But knowing how arrogant the Scottish are, and the fact they're helplessly outnumbered, I'd say they intend to try and buy us off or hire us on as mercenaries.... HOLD YOUR PLACES, MEN!"
The outlaws stood waiting, clutching their spears in place and waiting as the Scottish slowly rode towards them.... and then lowered their lances.
"Are they mad?" gasped Said in astonishment,"SPEA-"
The Scottish thundered into, through and over the Nubians, who screamed in terror and pain as their frontline was driven back into the ranks behind them, plunging each other with their own spears as the Scottish sent men flying through the air and struck about them with swords after discarding their lances. Over a 100 died in the first charge alone, and Said was flung bodily through and air and sent crashing into the sand, his body broken and his life fast fading as he watched the remnants of his men being cut down by the Scottish Horsemen who had ridden in the rear.
The Scottish wheeled about, surveying the grisly scene. Of the 151 Nubian spearmen who they had ridden into, only one had survived. Only five of Ian's own men had been killed in the charge, and now the remaining Nubian ran in terror from the demons that had come from the mist hidden in the forms of men.
"THIS IS SCOTTISH LAND!" roared Ian as he rode after the fleeing Nubian,"TELL ANY WHO THINKS OTHERWISE! TELL THEM THIS LAND IS SCOTTISH!"
"THIS LAND IS SCOTTISH!" screamed the terrified Nubian, desperate to say anything that would save him,"I WILL TELL ALL! YES! YES! I WILL TELL THEM!"
"Nae," grinned Ian as he watched one of his men run the Nubian down and end his miserable life,"Ye will nae."
His second rode up beside him frowning,"My Lord, forgive me, but it was foolish to risk ye life to kill a paltry band of outlaws."
"What kind of ruler would I be if I ran from a "paltry band of outlaws" to the safety of the Fortress at Algiers?" asked Ian,"I needed to send a message, this land IS Scottish, nae the domain of outlaws or the Spaniards."
"And who will carry ye message, My Lord?" asked the man,"Ye have killed all the Outlaws."
"Aye," grinned Ian,"There was nae need for any to survive to talk, I've left a far clearer message than any words could ever allow."
And thus Ian of Moray rode on to Algiers, leaving behind a message that was clear in its brutal simplicity.
"Do ye think ye can pull it off?" Aodh asked.
"I think that I have to," Nevin replied, hunkered down beside Aodh in the war room as they reviewed the larger world map etched into the floor,"Whether that means I will..."
The Spy left the statement hanging, and Aodh nodded grimly. They both stood, and Aodh offered his hand to the man he'd come to consider a friend as well as mentor,"If this does nae wo-"
"Aodh!" shouted Domnall, staggering through the door with wide eyes and a pale face, looking more distraught than Aodh could ever remember his brother looking.
"Domnall, what is it?" he asked, concerned,"The Spaniards?"
"Nae, nae," gasped Domnall, holding back tears,"Mother!"
In Cagliari, Gille Patrick Makfulchiane swallowed nervously as he rode his horse towards the gates of the city, and wondered not for the last time how it had come to this.
Of course it made sense that the Spanish had chosen Cagliari as one of their targets. Isolated by a sea that the Spanish now controlled, with a Spanish fortress in the smaller island to the North, they could send wave after wave of men at the Scottish.
Not that they would need to, the Scottish were doomed.
The natural defensive hill formation that Cagliari sat on was usually a defensive bonus, but the Spanish were showing the same creative flair that had seen them turn Scotland's massive military forces impotent. Hiding two catapults behind the hill, they were now firing over it against the walls defended by their depressingly small numbers of infantry. Gille's own catapult units were useless inside the walls of the city, and thus he'd found himself reduced to this last desperate gamble to try and save them from the Spanish.
He was going to put his own life at risk.
"Fearghus Makmartane died doing just this very thing," Gille grumbled as he stared down at the army of Spanish, twice the size of his own paltry forces, and many times the size of his Cavalry.
"Aye, and saved Algiers in the process," noted his Knight Commander.
"Let's see about saving the city and my life then," grunted Gille,"Dying heroically is all well and good, I'd like to live to enjoy being a hero, thank ye very much."
They thundered down the hill into the Catapult operators, who instantly struggled to defend themselves. For a moment, Gille felt exhilaration, they'd come down fast enough - hidden from view by the hills - to smash directly into the catapult operators, and if they killed them fast enough and turned quickly, they could ride back into Cagliari and hold out th-
"NOW!" roared the Spanish Captain, Fernando, who had been waiting for just such a manouver,"SURROUND THEM!"
"NAE!" roared Gille, casting about with his sword, trying desperately to smash his way free of the fray,"I WILL NAE DIE LIKE THIS!"
But the armored Spanish surrounded him on all sides, and as he cut at them they trapped his horse with their bodies and began grabbing at him, trying to haul him down so they could get at him with their weapons.
And they were successful.
Standing on the walls and afforded a view of the entire debacle, the Captain of the Pikemen - Algune - winced angrily. The Spanish had obviously learned from their defeat at Algiers, and not only had they been ready to bring down the Cavalry, but they'd spared the lives of their catapult operators, which meant they would still be able to bring down the walls and send 500 men against less than 200.
The surviving Horsemen rode back toward the gates leaderless as the Spanish Sword Militia marched up the hill to within arrowshot from the walls. Algune shouted orders and arrows began picking off the men who were too close, but more approached steadily, willing to take losses so they would be close to the walls when the gates were shattered by the battering ram being wheeled uphill towards them.
Algune's eyes widened in surprise and his heart swelled with pride as he watched the surviving horsemen turn back from the safety of the gates to face the Spanish. One craned his neck up so he had direct line of sight with Algune on the walls, and saluted stiffly.
"Die a Scotsman," Algune whispered, returning the salute, and then the Cavalry rode a suicide charge directly into the Spanish rather than risk the gates reopening and allowing their enemies through after them.
A full score of Spanish soldiers died under the hooves of the Scottish before they were overwhelmed and brought down, and Algune watched in despair as the last of them were cut down and cast aside, and then the ram continued its inexorable progress forward. Even the catapults had stopped now, not wanting to risk their own men from a misfire, and so Algune was forced to stand and wait with his men as they watched the ram wheel onwards towards the gate. Flaming arrows bounced off of the treated wood and failed to ignite, the Spanish having done all they could to keep the ram fireproof.
"Off these blasted walls!" Algune cried angrily,"Get down to that gate and stop those Spanish bastards from getting into the city!
They rushed as fast as they could in their armor with their pikes, twisting around the narrow stairwell to the ground as the gates burst open under the assault of the battering ram. The Spanish thundered through the archway with swords drawn as the Scottish raced to meet them, and soon the entire city echoed with the screams of dying men and the clash of swords. The Spanish Captain roared for his men to kill the Scottish, and Captain Algune screamed at his men to kill the Spanish, and both sides followed their orders all too well.
"NOW!" screamed Algune as he saw more Spanish moving into the city, the force of their numbers turning the Scottish back on their heels and allowing the Spanish to wheel around, their backs to the Western Wall.... just as Algune had hoped,"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NOW!"
And the Scottish Catapults fired.
"SHIT!" screamed Captain Fernando as he turned in horror to see the Catapults. The operators had gotten off one good shot, taken out over a score of the Spanish soldiers but also cleaving through the ranks of the Spaniards and knocking aside many more, bringing their forward momentum to a staggering halt. Knowing they would not have time to reload and fire again, the operators abandoned their machines and drew swords, charging into the Spanish and crushing the Spanish between them in a classic pincer motion.
And the Spanish broke.
The Scottish broke out into ragged cheers as the Spanish ran, but Algune roared for silence. They had broken the Spanish who had come through the gates, but as they fought, more had brought ladders to the walls, and now they were swarming over the walls and down to the ground to smash into the waiting Scotsmen, led by a bloodsoaked Captain Fernando who had held his ground as his men broke around him.
Algune stood at the frontline with his men, roaring with fury as he cast about at the Spanish charging against them. There were so many, and though the Scottish seemed to be able to best them man to man, their numbers were rapidly dwindling as the Spanish's ranks swelled and swelled. Algune cut down a Spaniard, turning his highly polished armor red, then let loose a laugh of disbelief as he saw a bloodstained Scottish Knight ride his obviously injured horse into the fray. Somehow the man had survived, and instead of huddling in fear or lying still to avoid being seen, he had pulled himself back onto his horse and returned to the fray.
"Die a Scotsman!" grinned Algune, then gritted his teeth as he found himself face to face with Spain's Captain Fernando.
"This land is Spanish now, Scotsman!" hissed Fernando.
"Over my dead body!" snapped Algune angrily.
"I wasn't waiting for an invitation," laughed Fernando, and lunged forward.... and Algune cut his hand from his wrist, dropping the sword to the ground as well.
"The Spanish may take this city," laughed Algune wildly, slamming his sword into Fernando's belly,"But ye'll nae be there to enjoy it!"
And once more, the Spanish broke.
Less than 30 of them remained, and they watched in wonder as the Spanish turned and ran in horror from the demonic Scotsmen, babbling to each other what so many had said in the past. These could not be human, no man could continue standing through such pressure... the Scots were devils gifted superhuman strength by Satan, there could be no other answer.
"Well done, Captain," gasped one man, slapping Algune on the shoulder as he gasped for breath, still standing over the corpse of Captain Fernando, who had died with a look of stupid surprise on his face,"Is that the end of them then?"
"The end of them?" gasped Algune, standing tall and staring at the hundreds of dead bodies littering the ground,"This is only the beginning lad, make ye peace with God.... ye'll be meeting him soon enough.
And outside the walls, those Spanish who had not yet faced the Scottish in battle began scaling the wars to put an end to their dominion of Cagliari.
The next three hours passed in a red blur of exhaustion and rage for Algune, as again and again his steadily dwindling men held off wave after wave of the Spanish. Slowly but steadily they were driven back, further and further into the city as more and more of them died, but leaving a trial of Spanish dead all the way.
Finally Algune had a moment to breath, as he trudged with his final five companions towards the gate of the inner fort. The gate would not open for them, and they did not expect it to, they had come here to make their final stand, six Scotsmen against over 250 Spaniards. They had fought proudly and fiercely, and killed so many of the Spanish, but they had simply not had the numbers to hold them back... Cagliari was going to fall, and all Algune could think was that he had failed in his duty.
A whistling sound filled the air and Algune's heart nearly broke in despair as he watched his five companions fall, javelins piercing their all ready dented and bloodsoaked armor, and he was alone, the final standing Scotsman of Cagliari.
"Surrender!" cried the Spanish from over the crest of the hill leading to the fort,"There is nothing to be gained from fighting!"
"Nothing but honor," whispered Algune harshly to himself, then shouted out louder,"I WILL DIE A SCOTSMAN!"
"Then die, Scotsman," muttered the leader of the Spanish Javelin-men, pulling his sword from its sheath and motioning to his men to follow him. As they charged over the hill, Algune turned and stared through the portcullis at the Scottish banner flying proudly in the wind.
"I will die a Scotsman," Algune repeated in a whisper to himself.