Part 48: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 47Aed Canmore sighed as the Russian Diplomat stared blankly forward, as motionless as a statue. He could hear the sounds of the sea coming through the window and felt a sudden desperate desire to rush out to the beach and just spend the day swimming rather than sit here with the maddeningly stubborn Russian.
He'd moved to Alexandria a week ago following an outbreak of the plague in Cairo, taking most of the Court's Nobles with him, essentially moving the centre of the Scottish Government to the first city Edward and Edmund Canmore had captured. After a week of breaking in new servants and officials, he'd finally felt he was settling in... and then the Russian had shown up.
Russia, alongside Poland, was one of the only Nations that Scotland knew little about. They had few dealings, each Nation's allies had little to do with each other, and Scotland's infamous Spy Network had uncovered little information about them. This was not due to being unable to get the information, but simply because it had been kept busy in other parts of the world and had never had any need to get at it. But now this Diplomat had arrived at Alexandria's Court, dropping cryptic hints that he might be willing to open up the mysterious frozen land.... if offered the right incentive.
So far, Aed had failed to find it.
"This would be easier, my friend, if ye gave me an indication what ye are after," Aed suggested tiredly,"We have offered ye trade rights, discussed military access, alliances and gifts... even out and out money. What is it ye want?"
"I vant for Russia enemy be crushed," grunted the Diplomat, and Aed hid another sigh. How could he help "crush" Russia's enemies if the man wouldn't even say whom they considered enemies. The door to the meeting room opened and a female servant carried in a tray of cool drinks to dull the desert heat. Aed smiled gratefully, then widened his eyes when he realized just who the female was.
"Perhaps I can help?" Muriel Canmore asked, staring at the Diplomat with a disturbing sparkle of amusement in her eye.
"My Lord," Dougall Macdonchie's Second asked him as they rode into formation outside the city walls,"The mountain pass was one thing, but I have to ask again.... how are we to explain this to the Pope?"
Dougall smiled at the stone walls of Zaragoza, then turned to grin at his Second,"And as I told ye before, dinnae worry yeself with such matters. God smiles on Scotland."
Dougall's Second nodded, but as his General raised his sword and began his pre-battle speech, he could not help but wonder. God might smile on Scotland.... but would the Pope?
Inside Zaragoza itself, Goncaluo Guyllemes stood staring in horror at the massive Scottish army that had come up somehow unseen right to the walls of the city. How was this possible? Manuel would surely have known, how could he miss....
"Manuel has betrayed us," whispered Goncaluo in horror, realization dawning on him. The Spy never made appearances in person, somehow getting his orders directly to Guyllemes sight unseen, which meant that if he had chosen to throw his lot in with the Scottish, he could have done so without fearing retaliation. It was Manuel who had ordered him to send men into the local mountain pass, emptying out much of the City's Garrison... now Guyllemes could only presume the men had been led into a trap. What made things worse was that he could not even send a message to the King, even by bird, as the only trained means of communication allowed between Zaragoza and King Mallobo was through... Domingo Manuel,"He has doomed us all."
A cry rang out amongst the men as a Scottish Bombard blasted into the gates of the city and tore through them, and Goncaluo twisted on his heel and exited the City Wall, heading for his horse to prepare to defend his city as his swordsmen left the walls to block the gaping hole where the gate had once been.
As the rain began to fall and dark clouds rolled over the city like an omen, Goncaluo had no illusions over who would hold Zaragoza by day's end.
Dougall stepped his horse past the dead bodies of the soldiers who had - until today - ruled and ran Zaragoza. Thunderclouds still rumbled overhead but the rain seemed to have stopped, and the General felt it was a further sign of God's favor. His Second rode up beside him and saluted, then stared around at the carnage.
"My Lord, we have killed many fellow Catholics today... I pray that ye assurances regarding the Pope prove true."
Dougall remembered his pre-dawn meeting with the hooded man who had inserted himself unseen into Domingo Manuel's place and smiled once more.
"Aye, my friend," he grinned,"Let me put it this way, I would nae want to be around King Mallobo for the next few days."
"ZARAGOZA!?!?!" screamed King Mallobo, smashing his fist into the table before him, then flinging it bodily through the air in a rage,"ZARAGOZA!?!?!"
"Zaragoza," nodded Gomes Tarcia, the brash young man who had been prepared to depart for Toledo from Valencia later that day in triumph. But instead, he'd been given the unenviable task of reporting the loss of Zaragoza, which was not only the City acting as the first guard-post between Spanish and Scottish territory, but also as the Command Centre of Spain's Scottish Campaign. Tarcia had been chosen because he was Mallobo's favorite, and thus stood only a 50/50 chance of being murdered in a rage by the hot-tempered King.
"How cou... how could Manuel let this happen!?" gasped Mallobo, standing panting roughly, his face red with rage,"They are in our territory now... they can push through directly into the Spanish heartland."
"What are we to do, your Majesty?" asked Gomes warily, bracing for a fresh outbreak of rage.
"We must get word to Pasqual de Cordoba," grunted Mallobo, still shaking his head in shocked disbelief,"It violates the rules I set forth to only take orders from Manuel, but he must listen... if he can attack Caen or Bruges, he'll draw the Scots back over the border."
"That makes sense," nodded Gomes,"We still have the fleets t-"
"Your Majesty," spoke up a hesitant voice, and suddenly Gomes found himself shoved aside as a furious King Mallobo stormed forward and grabbed the horrified messenger who had risked his life by intruding on their meeting. The King hauled the man bodily into the air and slammed him into the ground, slamming him in the face with a closed fist and bloodying his nose, screaming at him for intruding on their meeting.
"YOUR MAJESTY! MY KING!" screamed Gomes, holding himself back from putting his own life at risk by hauling the Spanish King away from the now bloodied messenger,"HE WOULD NOT INTRUDE UNLESS IT WAS IMPORTANT!"
Mallobo checked his fist and glared first at Gomes, then back at the blubbering messenger who was weakly thrusting a scroll in his hand in the direction of his King. Cursing furiously, Mallobo hopped off of the messenger and tore the scroll from his hand, opening it and reading the contents.
To Gomes great shock, the King's reaction was the last thing he'd ever expect to see from Mallobo. He staggered backwards while reading the scroll, then slumped into a wooden chair and dropped the scroll, his face pale and his eyes wide with horror. Gomes stepped forward and took the scroll from the King's limp fingers, and read the contents with the same shock.
"What is the meaning of this?" Gomes demanded of the messenger, who was sitting up and clutching his broken nose,"Ex-communication? WAR!?! Why!?!"
"Th.. The letter...." stammered the messenger.
"What letter?" demanded Gomes.
"The letter that came to The Pope in the midst of his latest Conference on Heresy," gasped the messenger, as if it was common knowledge,"The one that called his Papacy a farce.... and he a foolish old man whose quest for heretics was making the Church a laughing stock. He was furious, and declared it would be the focus of his Papacy to destroy Spain."
Gomes was horrified, a letter insulting the Pope? In public? The Church devoted to ending Spain's existence? How would the people of Spain react to this news? They were devoted Catholics and the Christ-on-Earth was now devoted to their destruction.
And then King Mallobo asked the question that Gomes SHOULD have been asking.
"Who sent this letter?" he asked, voice quivering and making him sound old for the first time in his life,"Who sent this abomination?"
The messenger stared in confusion at his King, and when he gave the answer, King Mallobo knew that Domingo Manuel had truly betrayed him completely.
"Who sent the letter, my King? Why.... you did."
The Russian Diplomat bowed as he left the room, actually giving Muriel a shy smile as he went, and Aed smiled warmly at her as she returned her own coy grin. Guards stepped in behind the Diplomat as he continued down the halls of the Palace, though their presence was meant more to honor him than because of any perceived threat to him or from him.
Aed leaned back in his chair and let it all sink in, while Muriel stared at him with an expectant smile, waiting for his congratulations. He would give it to her, she deserved it after the masterful way she had played the Russian into revealing far more than he'd ever intended or Aed could have ever expected. But first he needed to come to grips with the knowledge she had uncovered.... the mighty Russian Empire was striking out more aggressively than ever in its past, and the reason why was something no one could have ever suspected.
The Russian Tsar had died and his heir had been unable to secure control of the throne. Now as the heir struggled to regain control, various Generals and even peasants took control of their own regions within the Tsar's former regions.
For all intents and purposes, the Russian Empire was no more.
At Granada on the Southern Coast of Spain, Captain Antonio received news of Spain's Ex-Communication with the same shock as his men and the rest of the population. These were dark days for Spain, and the most bizarre thing was that only the day before everything had been seemingly going so well. King Mallobo had put Scotland on the back foot; the Spanish Fleet had held their armies back; the rich Island of Cagliari had been captured by the Spanish; and Algiers had been ripe for the plucking.
But then Agosto de Leon had died trying to take the former Moorish City; there were reports King Domnall Canmore had somehow bypassed the Spanish Fleets to reinforce Algiers; Zaragoza had apparently fallen to the Scottish and now Spain had been ex-communicated. Captain Antonio could only be grateful that his small command at Granada was still relatively safe. Domnall would need to fight his way along the coast to Marrakesh if he wanted to get to the Spanish mainland, and there were any number of large Spanish armies currently marching between Granada and Marrakesh that would be more than a match for the Scottish King.
"Sails on the horizon!" cried a voice, and Antonio smiled. One of the Spanish ships was returning to port, which was always good news since it generally meant a reinforcement of troops as well as a restock of supplies. He stepped out onto the balcony on the coastal side of Castle Granada and looked over the ocean at the approaching sail of the vessel, and then frowned as it grew closer and he noted the flag flying from its mast was not Spanish.
"That can't be," he muttered, peering through squinted eyes as the vessel grew larger and the flag became more apparent. The vessel was not Spanish.
It was Scottish.
Domnall Canmore's men marched off of the ship onto the Spanish Mainland in staggering numbers, moving in disciplined formations as they stretched before the city of Granada. King Domnall watched as birds took to the air from the high towers of the Castle and smirked, knowing that they carried panicked messages warning that the Scottish had arrived. It did not matter, Granada could not hope to hold against the upcoming onslaught, and any reinforcements that arrived would find themselves having to smash through their own city to get at the Scottish. After so long on the back foot, Domnall truly felt himself again, he felt....
"I feel like a Scotsman," he said out loud, and laughed. Sitting in Milan with Aodh and planning battles and troop movements without being there on the frontline with his men had rankled Domnall badly, and he'd felt himself going mad trying to find distractions. Finding himself with too much time on his hand, Domnall had reflected on the brushes with death he had all ready had, most notably the horrors of the plague. Thoughts of his own mortality had in turn made him think about the fact that there were only four male Canmores left in Scotland, and time was running out for any of them to provide a male heir to carry on once they were gone. The hastily arranged marriages of his elder daughters had been his attempt to at least somewhat control who would replace the Canmores as Kings of Scotland when he, Aodh, Adam and Aed passed on.
But now all thoughts of mortality had gone from his mind, oddly enough at a time when he was at more risk of dying, on the battlefield. Aodh had been pleased to inform him that Zaragoza had been neutralized, and as a result they now had a way to confuse and misdirect the Admirals of the Spanish Fleet. He'd instantly traveled by boat to Algiers, and from there reinforced his own men with Ian of Moray and his newest Son-in-Law, Patrick Makfulchiane before traveling over the ocean again to land at Granada thanks to Aodh's "friend" sending the Spanish boats patrolling the waters on another wild pirate chase.
"Ian my lad," laughed Domnall as the young Noble rode up beside his King alongside Makfulchiane,"Are ye ready to take the fight to these bastards on their own land?"
"Aye, Uncle," replied Ian, despite the fact he was closer to a second cousin than a nephew,"For a long time now."
"Well wait nae longer, lad," chuckled Domnall,"Ahhh but it's good to be back in the saddle and ready to go to war.... I'm going to enjoy this more than a God-fearing man should."
Domnall pulled off his helm and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on his face as his men cheered all about him, shouting his name and "Scotland!" over and over again. Patrick Makfulchiane rode up beside him, his own helm removed and a thin trickle of blood running down the side of his head, a wide grin on his face.
"Did ye like ye first taste of battle then, lad?" Domnall asked cheerfully.
"Aye," smiled Patrick,"It is an.... interesting.... way to release tension."
"I prefer women myself," chuckled Ian of Moray, riding up to join them,"Speaking of which, I imagine there are a number of them in this city looking to welcome their new Masters."
"Careful, Ian," grunted Domnall seriously,"Remember that we mean to rule in these lands when the Spanish are gone, and gestures of kindness now will go a long way to smoothing our own reign."
"This all seemed almost... too easy," added Patrick,"I ken there were nae many Spanish guarding this city, but even so..."
"Dinnae worry about a challenge, Patrick," laughed Ian,"With Macdonchie taking Zaragoza, we control only the Northern and Southern tips of the Spanish Mainland."
"He's right, lad," nodded Domnall,"Aodh arranged any number of misdirections to enable us to get here, but now we're down to the meat of it. The mainland is filled with large Spanish armies, not to mention their desert holdings to the South, and they'll all be heading directly towards us the moment they hear I am leading our armies here in the South. This war is only beginning, and things are going to get bloody before this is all over."