Part 47: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 46Captain Sebastian was confused. As the senior Infantry Commander of Zaragoza's Garrison, he was used to having to fulfill orders he didn't understand... but these were more confusing that normal. He'd been ordered to take a sizeable portion of Zaragoza's garrison north through the mountain passes between the Spanish City and Toulouse, which was currently in the hands of the Scots. An outlaw band was apparently using the pass as a base of operations, and the order had come from Goncaluo Guyllemes to put an end to them.
As far as Sebastian could tell, having an outlaw band in the pass between them and the Scottish was a good thing, but it was not his place to question orders. Especially when they came from Guyllemes, which in reality meant they came from Domingo Manuel.
When Manuel gave an order, you followed it.
As his men moved up through the cold mountain pass where the snows of winter still sat, the silence seemed to bear down on Sebastian's soldiers. He was a Believer, he felt that when he died he would go on to eternal reward in heaven, and thus like many soldiers he credited his own finely honed instinct to danger to divine communication, a warning from God.
"This is all wrong," the Spanish Captain muttered,"Something isn't right he-"
And then he saw it.
"By God," gasped Sebastian,"Domingo has betrayed us."
"Captain, we must return to Zaragoza!" cried his Crossbow Commander, horrified,"The Scottish are coming from Toulouse!"
"Run?" grunted Sebastian angrily,"Yes, but not away from them... they'd cut us down before we were out of the valley. CHARGE MEN! OUR ONLY HOPE IS TO PUT OUR LIVES IN THE HANDS OF GOD!"
And his men, believers all, charged up the steep slope of the mountain pass towards Dougall Macdonchie and his 900 baying, bloodthirsty Scotsmen.
As the crossbowmen faltered and staggered under an onslaught of bolts from their Scottish opposites, the Spanish Sword Militia charged up behind them, using their fellow Spaniards as human shields to get closer to the Scots.
And then Dougall sent in his Highlanders.
The Spanish gaped in astonishment at the awesome sight of hundreds of baying Scotsmen dressed in nothing but kilts leaping through the snow as if it was a balmy sunny day, while the Spanish were feeling the bite of the cold even in their full armor. The two forces clashed, and while the Spanish struggled to move in their heavy armor with limbs turned sluggish by cold, the Highlanders roared and laughed and taunted them, darting about agilely, seemingly untouched by the weather. It all proved too much for the Spaniards, who turned and ran in spite of the knowledge they would never make it out of the valley alive. Dougall watched with a fierce grin on his face, and then raised his sword and gave the order, and his cavalry charged over the rise and down into the pass after the Spanish.
Captain Sebastian had stood longer than his men, screaming at them to hold their places and trust in God to deliver them. But standing alone, he realized what so many others had learnt over the centuries.
God helped those who helped themselves.
As the Highlanders chased down the last of the Spanish, Dougall cleaned his sword and exhaled happily, feeling as if a great weight had lifted off of his shoulders. Finally, after so long on the back foot, Scotland was finally taking the fight to the Spanish, and it felt good.... so good!
"My Lord," nodded his Crossbow Commander, stepping up beside Dougall's horse,"It was a grand fight, but I'm concerned, will the Pope not be displeased with us for killing fellow Catholics?"
"Whatever do ye mean?" smiled Dougall,"The Spanish came here to do away with a band of outlaws, and they were obviously wiped out by that band. It has nae to do with us."
"But what of those who escape?" asked the Commander, confused,"Surely they will return to Zaragoza an-"
"They will nae reach Zaragoza alive," grinned Dougall confidently,"Even if they escape our men, ye have my guarantee on that."
And somehow, the Commander did not doubt the word of his General.
Aed Canmore sighed into his palm as Duncan Forster cried out for more music and the women draped over him giggled with delight. He'd been dragged out by Forster to experience "the fleshpots" of Cairo after revealing to the man that he had never partaken in them despite spending almost his entire life in the city. The man was a buffoon who let money drip through his hands like water, was far too fond of gambling and spoke far too loudly of his own devotion to Scotland. But he was also an adopted member of the Arthyn family, whose late patriarch Finguine had been a highly trusted friend (and in fact adopted son) of Edward Canmore. Coupled with the reputation of Finguine's late son Gawain as a vanquisher of the Mongols, just being associated with the Arthyn's was enough to guarantee Duncan's place in Cairo's Court. Aed always made it a point to be well regarded by everyone, having long ago learned that if everyone was your friend, no one was your enemy... and that people also tended to let their guards down around "friends". So he'd come out to the fleshpot, and not regretted it bitterly. Men staggered around drunkenly openly groping women, lewd talk came from man and woman both, there was too much drink being passed around and far too much money being spent. It reminded Aed of the old tales of the debauchery of the Roman Empire before it collapsed, and he feared for the future of the nobility if this was an example of how their youngest sons lived.
"Maybe Aodh was right to take so many of them on his Moorish Campaign," Aed muttered to himself, remembering how livid he had been when his Cousin had arrived at Cairo and promptly dragged away some of the best and brightest of the Nobles in Aed's court,"A good bit of war woul-"
"Would what, Cousin?" asked a sweet voice, and Aed spluttered in his mug of water as he turned to find himself facing a pretty young girl - no surprise in such a place as this - whom he knew very well.
"Muriel, what in the name of God are ye doing here!?!" he whispered harshly, shocked beyond words. Muriel was the youngest of the King's four daughters, a small girl who had grown into a pretty woman as she completed her studies in Scotland's true capital, Cairo. But she was still only 16, a grown woman now but still far too young, innocent and.... NOBLE! to be in a place such as this.
"Continuing my education," grinned Muriel cheekily, and looked over at Duncan across the room as he groped at one of the whores grinding against him,"What a lovely sight, he's meant to be my Husband, ye ken?"
"Aye," grunted Aed, head still spinning that Muriel even knew a place like this existed,"He thinks ye comely and has requested in writing to the Council of Nobles to argue his cause to the King."
"Romantic stuff," chuckled Muriel,"It's how I always dreamed my proposal would come as a wee lass."
"Muriel...." started Aed, hesitating,"Ye... ye deserve better."
"Aye," grinned Muriel, fading back into the shadows of the fleshpot as a group of men passed by,"I do. But deserve has little to do with it. Ye have never married; ye brother Adam has given his wife no children; and Father and Uncle Aodh seem predisposed to creating girls. If Father cannae have a Canmore boy to continue the line, he'll take the next best thing he can get and spread his daughters out amongst the finest noble lines in the Empire.... like I said, romantic."
"Aye, to romance," grunted Aed, and lifted his mug.
"To romance," agreed Muriel with a giggle.
Agosto de Leon sat as tall on his horse as he could manage without looking like that is what he was doing, staring with what he hoped was an imperious stare at the walls of Algiers.
"Algiers, you have spurned my advances in the past," he noted out loud,"But I will not take no for an answer this day. Today I shall enter you.... and you will enjoy it."
"My Lord?" asked his Bombard Commander, used to the eccentricities of the Spanish Lord,"Shall we launch the attack?"
"Not yet," replied Agosto, watching the setting sun and waiting for the moment when the shadows were cast at their most dramatic. His conquest of Algiers WOULD be beautiful this time, dammit, he meant to see to that,"Wait on my word."
"This is nae good, my Lord," muttered Ian's Knight-Commander sitting inside the walls,"Agosto learned his lesson from his previous defeat here, he has brought a siege tower, bombards, catapults, ladders and battering rams. He means to break through the walls come hell or high-water."
"Then I will bring hell to him," grunted Ian,"That bastard Makmartane had the right idea, damn him, if I can get out there with my cavalry and cut down their artillery operators, it'll prevent them from getting into the city."
"Nae my Lord," the Knight Commander corrected, shaking his head,"Lord Makmartane only had one unit of Knights to ride with him, he had no choice but to ride out... and it is to my eternal shame that he died when I lived. I will lead our mounted Knights out there against the artillery, and ye will stay in here and command the defense of the walls."
"It is my duty to protect this city," growled Ian angrily,"I'll nae let ye d-"
"And it is MY duty to protect ye," snapped the Knight-Commander,"A task I failed for Lord Makmartane, and a task I will nae fail for ye."
Ian glared at the man and he glared back, and finally Ian acquiesced, cursing himself for feeling relief.
"Ye name is Arcill, is it nae?" he asked.
"Aye," nodded the Knight-Commander.
"Then ride with honor, Arcill," grunted Ian, saluting,"And then ride back with ye life."
Outside the walls, Agosto had judged that the sun had set to a point now where the lengthening of the shadows created enough a dramatic counter-point to the stark contrast of the walls of Algiers. He raised his sword, ready to make a dramatic speech that would sear the heart of his men and give them the courage to fight gloriously.... and then the Scottish ruined it all.
"No! No!" snapped Agosto angrily as he watched line after line of Mailed Knights ride out of the city gates, a slow solemn procession that was completely destroying the magnificence of HIS moment,"ARTILLERY! FIRE ON THE WALLS! NOW! NOW! FIRE!"
The Spanish had been waiting patiently for their Lord's order, and when it finally came they sprang into action at once. Bombards and catapult fire blasted almost instantaneously all at the same point, crashing into the wall beneath where the Highland Archers stood patiently waiting.
"RIDE!" cried Arcill as he watched in horror the walls buckling and crashing down under the artillery assault,"RIDE NOW FOR SCOTLAND!"
"My beautiful artillery!" gasped Agosto as he watched the Knights sweep through the catapult and Bombard Operators. He gritted his teeth angrily as he saw his Swordsmen charge up on all sides to put paid to the Knights, and then shook his head clear and began screaming orders in a higher pitched voice than his men were used to hearing,"FORGET THE FUCKING KNIGHTS! THERE IS A HOLE IN THE WALL! KILL THE SCOTSMEN INSIDE! KILL THEM!"
"Here they come," grunted Ian, sitting his horse behind the Highland Nobles waiting in the breach in the wall. Past them he could see Agosto leading his men in a charge towards the breach while swordsmen charged with ladders towards the wall still standing. He lifted his head to the archers still standing atop the remains of the wall and those just behind it, and gave an order that did not need to be given,"KILL THEM!"
The two sides crashed together with tremendous force at the breach, the Highland Nobles swinging massive two-handed swords that took out the legs of the horses the Spaniards rode. As they dragged Spaniards from their horses, far above them their brethren tossed Spanish Swords Militia bodily over the side and roared their defiance at men whose major training had been in shining their armor so they would look good while marching in formation.
Agosto stared around him in panic as he watched his beautiful Spanish army turning and running back towards the desert, while those who stood their ground were cut down without hesitation. How had it all gone wrong? The glorious epic he had been having his minstrels prepare ahead of time had never seen it happening like this... he was being defeated at Algiers for a second time!
Turning and abandoning his men, Agosto tried to run from the battle and his humiliation... and found his earlier decision not to obliterate the Scottish Mailed Knights coming back to bite him on the ass.
"That's their strutting peacock of a leader!" roared Arcill, riding his remaining men back towards the city,"BRING HIM DOWN!"
Seeing Agosto fallen, whatever had held the Spaniards in place broke and they turned and ran, chased by the Scottish, more and more of them cut down as they were broken into small groups and cut down by the baying Scots that screamed in delight as they took their revenge.
Ian slowly rode his horse through the breach and over the dead bodies of Scotsmen and Spanish alike, coming to a stop by Arcill and smiling at his bloodied Knight-Commander before offering a salute.
"So ye fulfilled ye duty, then?" he asked with a grin.
"Aye, my Lord," smiled Arcill wearily,"And ye fulfilled yours."
Ian turned and looked back at the city, frowning at the breach in the wall,"Aye, but that wall will need repairing... who can ken when the Spanish might return."
Coughing laughter surprised them both, and they looked down beside Arcill's horse where Agosto lay, his body broken and ruined, his face a bloody mess from where he had been repeatedly trampled by Arcill's Knights.
"Sooner tha... than you think, Scotsman," laughed the Spaniard,"You st... you stopped me here to....day, but more are coming... thousands more!"
He broke off in to harsh coughing, then smiled again, his eyes wide with madness,"My Ki... my King has been planning... been planning this for qui... quite some time, all you... all you have won today is a re... reprieve from your execution. You'll die.... YOU'LL ALL DIE! YOU'LL ALL DIE!
Arcill slid down from his horse and slammed his sword through the gap in Agosto's chestpiece, directly into his heart and cutting off his laughter immediately. He pulled his sword clear and spat on Agosto's body, then turned and looked at Ian.
"Do ye think he spoke the truth?" he asked.
"It doesnae matter," replied Ian, his eyes hard,"Let them come in their hundreds and their thousands, as long as true Scotsmen stand in defense of these lands, Algiers will nae fall."
It was only two days later that Ian sat in the banquet hall of Castle Algiers, laughing with his men - including Arcill, whom he had struck up a close friendship with - when a guard broke into the hall in a panic, warning that an army was marching on the city.
Ian ordered the garrison to assemble immediately, and quickly had himself dressed in his armor before riding his horse alongside Arcill towards the gates of the city, and the breach in the wall that was being rapidly repaired but was still nowhere near completion. Upon arriving at the gate, he dismounted and moved into the tower stairwell, rushing up as fast as his heavy armor and the winding stairs would allow him till he reached the top and strode out onto the thick walls of the city. He stared out across the dark stretch of desert, noting the silhouette of a massive army approaching, marching in an obviously disciplined formation. This was not some prize army put together by a strutting peacock like Agosto, the army approaching now was obviously well trained and a force to be reckoned with.
"There must be close to 2000," gasped Arcill, and Ian felt his own brash, brave words of only two days earlier coming back to haunt him. How could they hold off 2000 Spaniards with their battle-weary 863? And with half a wall missing? Had they defeated Agosto only to see his dying proclamation come true.
He stood and watched as the army strode to within a few hundred yards of the walls and came to a stop, still hidden in shadows from his gaze. All was silent for several minutes, and then a lone figure rode forward into the light cast by the torches on the city walls and in the hands of the guards on the walls. Ian stared in disbelief at the man appearing before him.... it could not be!?!
"Well then, lad," shouted King Domnall Canmore with a smile, crying out up the walls to Ian,"Are ye going to let ye poor old Uncle in for a drink or aren't ye?"