Part 49: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 48Aodh Canmore walked down a long dirt road, past shoulder high fields of wheat. Along the side of the road ahead of him he could see three figures standing side by side, waiting for him.
He passed them in silence, looking straight ahead but feeling their gaze burning into him. The first was a tall, dignified, dark skinned Turk who glared at him with hate; the second a grey-haired, pale-skinned man whose eyes bore deep into Aodh while his mouth curled up in a sneer of contempt; and the third a black-eyed, swarthy Mongol whose eyes were unreadable but whom seemed to radiate insanity. Aodh had never met any of them before, but he knew them all instinctively.
Tutush, Puccio and Subutai.
He passed them and continued on up the road, and found himself at a crossroads. He stood on the Southern Road, and three other men stood on the others, all staring at him expectantly.
"Go North, Aodh," said the man on the North Road, a balding man with dancing, happy eyes that belied the downcast appearance of his brow. Aodh recognized him, unchanged from his youth for good reason... he was dead,"Always move on, always look to the future.
"Go East, Aodh," said the man on the East Road, a man who could have been Aodh's twin except for his white hair and lined face. Aodh knew him too, it was a face he would never forget as long as he lived,"Do nae let the past catch ye unawares."
"Go West, Aodh," said the man on the West Road, a pale, sickly looking man whose smile did not meet his eyes. Aodh instinctively knew his name, but was surprised by the dull unease he felt in the pit of his stomach as he stared at a man he had always been taught had died a hero,"Make a fresh start."
"Go ye own way, lad," said a voice from behind him, and though Aodh did not - he could not - turn his head to look, he knew the voice of the man almost as well as he knew his Father's,"Trust in God and make ye destiny from what he sends ye."
Aodh stepped into the centre of the crossroads and felt differing thoughts and feelings welling up inside of him. What should he do? Where should he go? Who should he trust? It was all so difficult, how could any one mortal man decide?
And then the answer came to him with a flash of light and a booming voice.
Aodh sat up in his bed with a start, clutching at the sheets and panting heavily, eyes wide and mouth gaping open.
"Aodh?" asked Katherine,"Aodh what is the matter?"
"Nae, nae, calm yeself," he gasped, running a hand through his sweat-soaked hair and turning to stare at his wife,"It was a dream, nae more than a dream."
She stared at him uncertainly, but he smiled reassuringly and she lay back in the bed. He did the same and only minutes later he heard her breath slow into the deep, rhythmic beat of sleep. He lay still for a few more minutes to be sure he would not disturb her, then slid out of the bed and quickly dressed himself, stepping out of his bedchamber into the halls of the Palace at Genoa.
He walked himself to the same seaside balcony where Duke Puccio had once watched Domnall Canmore sail his army to the docks of Genoa, and breathed deeply of the air before smiling.
A dream? No, what he had just experienced had not been a dream.
It had been a vision.
Hew Mar stepped up onto the platform in the Caen Marketplace with a heavy heart, feeling as if his legs were weighted down by chains. He stepped to the centre of the platform and looked out over the gathered throng, some of whom were staring at him expectantly while others continued to dicker and barter with each other over various goods and foods. He coughed lightly into his fist to clear his throat, then raised his voice and called for attention.
"People of Caen, Scotsmen all!" he cried,"Ye country needs ye!"
"The wife needs these potatoes more!" laughed one wit, and a roar of laughter spread up through the throng, and even Hew had to grin.
"Aye, run home to ye woman then!" he called out,"I only needed to speak to the men, anyway!"
Now the laughter turned on the heckler, good natured shouts breaking out from several sources. Hew let them continue on for a few moments, getting their lewd comments and jovial insults out of their system, then continued on.
"The men of Spain!" he called, and booing rose from the throng, and he let it raise before continuing on,"The men of Spain even now find themselves trapped between Scottish armies to their North and South, with their old senile bastard of a King caught smack in the middle!"
Now the Scottish cheered, and again Hew let them work it out of their system before going on.
"But the war with Spain is not restricted to the Spanish mainland," Hew warned,"They have used their fleets to move an army up to these lands. Ye would have heard tell of farmlands to the East being ravaged... that is the work of Pasqual de Cordoba, a Spanish Nobleman who means to destroy ye farms and lands, starve out ye cities and then crack them open like an egg!"
"The wife won't like that!" shouted one man, and there was laughter, but scattered and uneasy. They had heard the rumors of an army moving to the East, but until now they had only been rumors. It was Winter, and they had stocks to last them through it, but if their lands and farms were destroyed, even if they fought off the Spanish, they'd not have time to replant and harvest crops for the next Winter.
"Cordoba's men are highly trained and well equipped," shouted Hew over the angry and frightened conversations that were breaking out,"And with much of our Northern Cities' garrisons stripped down to fight the Spanish in their homes, we have left our own lands dangerously unprotected. My own army was halved by a recent battle with English Rebels, which has left me severely undermanned!"
"So what's the bad news then, lad?" snapped one of the men bitterly, and Hew felt the mood of the throng turning ugly, and knew now was the time.
"The good news," he shouted,"Is that we've cleared out many of our soldiers to fight in Spain, but we have nae cleared out all the men! Whether ye be young or old, ye country needs ye! Join me and what soldiers I still have under my command, and we'll show de Cordoba that the finest Spanish soldier is no match for any single Scottish man!"
As the throng burst into excited, frantic multiple conversations, Hew stood and watched them, and wondered how many of them would answer the call to arms.
And whether it would make any difference.
As Pasqual de Cordoba caused problems for Hew Mar near Caen, King Domnall Canmore was causing problems for Prince Ferrando in Cordoba.
Domnall had left several hundred men at Granada and then ridden his men hard to the North, taking advantage of the misinformation "Domingo Manuel" had been spreading that had seen Spain's armies out of position when Scotland had taken Granada. At Cordoba, Prince Ferrando had barely 400 men, and Domnall knew that if they pushed hard and took the city, they would have an easily defendable base to fight off the Spanish armies. In the meantime, Allan of Nairnshire was moving a force of men from Algiers to Marrakesh which would again serve to divide the Spanish armies, while Dougall Macdonchie would be able to attack cities to the North. The Spanish would not be able to survive a four front war and be forced to call their fleets back in to deliver the armies on board back to the mainland, by which point Domnall was hopeful he could have surrounded the surviving Spanish in order to finish them off in one fell swoop.
And then he had plans for King Mallobo in Valencia.
But the entire basis of his plan relied on taking Cordoba quickly, and a fresh complication had just arisen.
A late winter storm.
As the Bombards fired on the walls of Cordoba, Ian of Moray stared up at the rain with distaste and shook his head.
"Even the Winter Storms in this Godforsaken country is warm," he grunted,"All this heat cannae be good for the mind, nae wonder these blasted Spanish are so mad."
"They used to say the same about the Scottish and the cold," chuckled Patrick Makfulchiane,"Until Edward Canmore up and conquered Egypt and proved the Scottish are mad whether in hot or cold."
Ian grinned behind his helm, Patrick was a good lad with a fine sense of humor, he'd found himself growing fond of him as they'd ridden together. He knew that Domnall was grooming him as a potential heir - married as he was to one of the King's daughters - should the current line of male Canmores fail to secure a male heir of their own. A world without Canmores barely seemed worth contemplating to Ian, who was the adopted son of one of the legendary Edward Canmore's daughters himself, but he could see the seeds of greatness in Makfulchiane. There would be worse men to follow.
"HO! There we go!" laughed Patrick as the gates exploded open, and Domnall lifted his sword and commanded the Infantry forward.
Archers fired flaming arrows up into the air at the few Spanish who could afford to stand the walls, but the shifting storm winds snatched most of them away, serving to do little more than illuminate the walls in the gathering darkness.
As the Spanish swordsman on the ground were torn through by the baying Scottish, a group of Highland Nobles broke free and charged up the steps of the gate tower, breaking through onto the walls and into the Spanish still standing there.
As the Spaniards were slaughtered where they stood, Domnall turned to look at Ian and Patrick, inclining his head as both repeated the mantra he had drilled into them, a variation of the one he had often repeated to Aodh and that his Uncle had told him.
"A Scottish General fights on the frontline with their men."
As the Scottish Cavalry rode through the city gates, Prince Ferrando led his own against them. The Spanish heir was an experienced General, the 59 year old younger brother of King Mallobo who had all the same talents and strengths of his brother without the blinding rage that so often affected the King. He led his charge not in a passionate rage but in a cold calculating fashion. He knew that he was a dead man, his men could not prevail against the overwhelming number of Scots, but he could do what damage he could before he died.
He meant to take King Domnall with him.
As Spaniards and Scotsmen clashed and died, knocked from their horses and ridden over, or put through by swords, Ferrando cast about him with his blade and looked about for the King. His eyes narrowed as he spotted the full-armored Scot charging into a bundled up group of Spanish horse, cutting them down and roaring in delight, lost in the bloodlust that the Scottish were infamous for.
"Enjoy the blood, Scotsman," hissed Ferrando, driving his heels into the sides of his horse and thundering forward,"I hope you choke on the laughter when you arrive in hell!"
Ferrando grinned as he saw the King twist his head about at the last second, some battle instinct telling him that death was coming. In desperation he raised his sword, and Ferrando grunted as he felt the Scot's blade plunge through his armor and into his belly even as his own sword pierced his opponent's side.
"DEEEEAAATHHH!" screamed Ferrando, struggling to pull his blade clear, but his victim did so first, swinging his sword wildly and slashing open Ferrando's throat before he plunged from his own horse and crashed into the ground, his frantic horse riding over him in a final indignity.
"NAE!" screamed Patrick Makfulchiane, cutting through the Spanish around him, ignoring his own wounds as he smashed his horse to his fallen mentor's side. He leapt down from the saddle as the battle continued around him, grabbing at the body and desperately seeking any sign of life. All around him the Scottish seemed unaware of their loss, as they continued fighting, chasing down the last of the Spanish and putting them to the sword. Patrick did not notice them, he did not hear the cheers as he pulled the helm from his mentor's head and stared with sinking dismay at the unseeing eyes.
"A Scottish General fights on the frontline.... and can die on the frontline too," said a voice, not unkindly, from behind him. Patrick turned and stared up at the speaker with tears in his eyes as he spoke again,"Being in the Royal Family is nae protection from Death's embrace, Patrick, a lesson that too many do nae learn."
"Aye, I understand," sobbed Patrick, hanging his head and embracing the dead body,"I understand, my King."
And Domnall Canmore settled his hand down on Patrick Makfulchiane's shoulder as his son-in-law wept over the dead body of his mentor, Ian of Moray.
"Aed, why have ye nae married some nice woman yet?" Muriel asked, surprising Aed Canmore. He looked up from his desk, where he had been reviewing reports of the financial cost of the plague in Cairo, and over at his Cousin, who had been assisting him by making sense of the latest diplomatic news from around the world.
"Why do ye ask?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Who do ye nae answer?" she replied, smirking, causing him to laugh,"Seriously, Aed, ye're an attractive man, ye're still fairly young, and ye're in the Royal Family, surely ye're a catch for any lass?"
"Adam fulfilled his obligation by marrying the right woman," Aed replied cryptically,"There was nae need for me to do so."
"That worked out well for Mor," muttered Muriel, rolling her eyes but leaving unspoken what was common knowledge throughout the empire regarding Adam and his extra-marital obsession,"But if duty did nae call ye to marriage, surely love must have?"
"If I ever met a woman I loved, perhaps I would marry her," nodded Aed thoughtfully,"But intelligent, thoughtful women who are nae looking to marry for power are few and far between in this part of the Empire... and I've nae had the same "obsessions" that other men seem to have with the less "romantic" aspects of being with a woman... nae, nae marriage for me, Muriel."
"It must be nice to have the choice," Muriel said quietly, and went back to reviewing the diplomatic notes. Aed cursed himself for a fool, only now realizing that Muriel's curiosity could only be because of the pressure being exerted on her to accept Duncan Forster's suggestion of marriage. He stood and walked to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder, and moments later she took his hand in her own, leaving them both on her shoulder as a quiet sobbing overtook her.
The men of Scotland had answered the call to arms.
Hew stared with awe at the 1600 men that he now commanded, swelling his ranks by over five times. They made an incredibly impressive sight, with only one major issue that Hew could identify.
Almost 1200 of them had never been seen battle before.
Hew had been able to train them for roughly a week, showing them the basics of battle formations and trying to stress how important it was to think as a unit rather than an individual. But that was all that he had the time to do, and finally he'd had no recourse but to head out into the field to meet with Pasqual de Cordoba's army, which was half the size but full of exceptionally well trained, armored Spaniards eager to kill as many of the Scots as they could.
"Captain Comgell has a small force of men, a last resort only if things go horribly wrong for us," Hew told his Second,"If it comes down to it, I'd prefer him to turn and run with his tail tucked between his legs."
"There are few Scotsmen who would do that despite the greatest odds," his Second replied firmly, and Hew nodded even as he thought to himself that they'd soon see how tough the average Scotsman really was once they encountered a few hundred well trained Spanish killing machines.
"FORWARD SPEARMEN!" roared Hew, and the bunched up ranks of the Spear Militia who had answered the call to arms moved forward in a staggered frontline, rippling along the line as some ran to catch up to the others while others slowed so they wouldn't get too far ahead. Hew sunk his head in his hand, knowing that their sheer numbers may have daunted Pasqual at first, but by now he would have realized how ill-trained they were.
And moments later he was proved right, as a confident de Cordoba ordered his men to charge directly into the oncoming Scottish line.
Hew ordered his own Pikemen and Highlanders to move up to brace the lines of Spearmen and provide a stabilizing point from which to fight the Spanish and hold the ends of the Scottish line, which he was sure would buckle and run at any point. Pasqual obviously could see this tactic for what it was though, and with a cry charged his mounted cavalry directly against the Spearmen, meaning to break their spirits and send them running in terror, which would create a chain reaction that would send the entire army fleeing.
And then something happened their neither Pasqual or Hew has expected.
The Scottish held.
Scores of the militia fell to the sword of the Spaniards, crashing in heaps and bleeding into the snow of the lands they called their own. But with every Scot that fell, two more would step up to take his place, and they did not blanch in the face of danger, they did not quake in fear or fall into shock. They stood and they fought, and they screamed their defiance and laughed as they cut down the Spaniards that came at them. The Highlanders roared in approval, and then to Hew's astonishment they began to sing, a song taken up by more and more, including Hew himself. He recognized the song of course, it was as ancient as the Scottish themselves, tracing back to even before the time of Harry Byrne, words of loss in battle that changed with the time and the enemy. But surprisingly it was not a dirge, but a celebration of their fighting spirit and stubborn refusal to ever surrender.
I've heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lasses a-lilting before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
"The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away".
As buchts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning;
The lasses are lonely and dowie and wae.
Nae daffin', nae gabbin', but sighing and sobbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglen, and hies her away.
In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
The Bandsters are lyart, and runkled and grey.
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching,
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.
At e'en, in the gloaming, nae swankies are roaming,
'Bout stacks wi' the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie,
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.
We'll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The Flowers of the forest are all wede away.
"What madness is this," moaned Pasqual in horror as he watched his men falter and stutter, their formations breaking up as the Scottish pushed forward and surrounded them, and Pasqual found himself trapped in the middle of a circle of baying, laughing, weeping and singing Scotsmen.... and then a blade was slammed through his back.
"This is nae ye land, Spaniard!" hissed the Scotsman, a 45 year old farmer whose farm would have been razed by de Cordoba's army within the week had they not marched against them,"I hope Hell is hot enough for ye!"
The remains Spaniards broke in terror from the Scottish, and Hew watched them run with satisfaction, then snarled and bared his teeth before letting loose the cry,"LET NONE OF THEM LIVE! KILL THE SPANIARDS!"
"KILL THE SPANIARDS!" screamed the Scottish, and they charged as Hew snapped angrily at himself a lesson he should have learned from his Father.
You never underestimated a Scotsman.
In the end they did not achieve their goal of killing every Spanish soldier that had dared enter their lands.... three escaped.
Hew decided he could live with that.
Duncan Forster lounged in his cushioned, high-backed chair and grinned lazily at Aed as they sat in the Alexandria Court, preparing to hear what would be the final submission of the day. Usually Duncan did not bother with this aspect of Court life, but he had special reason to be here today, and was clearly enjoying himself.
The doors to the Court opened and there were several gasps as Muriel Canmore entered through them. Despite her youth, her time acting in diplomatic support to Aed had seen her gather a poise and grace beyond many twice her age, which only accentuated her natural beauty. She was a person of great interest to the unmarried men of the Scottish Empire (and many of the married) and now she was here to announce her acceptance of a marriage to Duncan Forster, who was reveling in his moment of glory.
"Heavy is the head that wears the Crown," Muriel spoke, her voice clear and authoritative," And my Father's head grows heavy indeed. As he wages war against the Spanish and deals with the affairs of State, a further pressure has been added to his shoulders. Where are the male heirs to the Canmore line? Who will continue the lineage of Edward and Edmund? Of Alexander and Domnall? Of Aodh? This is a pressure that must be lifted from my Father's shoulders, and thus I have come today to announce a proposal of marriage."
Excited murmuring rolled around the crowds of nobles and merchants in the Court, while Aed hid a small frown. There was something peculiar in the wording Muriel had used that he couldn't quite place his finger on, and Muriel was too intelligent to make a mistake. Was there something else going on here?
"Duncan Forster, ye have made ye intentions clear, ye wish to marry me," she asked.
"Aye, I want ye for my Wife, Muriel," Duncan said, putting on an absurd baritone.
"It is nae the place of a Princess to allow herself to marry any but the right man," Muriel replied, nodding her head thoughtfully,"Ye are a good man Duncan, a brave man of Noble birth...."
Duncan could not help but smirk in agreement.
"....which is why it is such a shame I cannae marry ye," Muriel finished, and Duncan's smirk faded as his eyes widened. She turned away from him, and now Aed was horrified to find she was facing him.
"Aed Canmore," she asked,"Will you do me the honor of marrying me?"
And Aed Canmore, for the first time in his life, spoke without first thinking of the consequences or how it would affect the way others saw him.
"Aye Muriel.... aye, I will."
As news of the shocking marriage rocketed through the Scottish Empire - and indeed the world - with a speed that even Nevin of Shetland would have thought impossible, in Toulouse another woman awaited "her" Canmore.
Cassandra was in her forties now, but still a woman of astonishing beauty. She too carried herself with a regal grace, but she was not a Princess or a Lady, not a wife or a mother. she was what she had always been.
The other woman.
News of Muriel's "shocking" marriage proposal had reached her early in the morning, and the scandal of it all had delighted her. Not because she found the idea of two Canmores marrying shocking, she had seen and heard of far worse in the English Court, while the French... well the French were something else all together. No, in her mind there was no offence to be found in the marriage of two second cousins whose familial relationship was based almost entirely on sharing the same last name. What amused her was the sure to be outraged reactions of the more conservative Nobles in Toulouse's Court.
And Adam's, of course.
Her long time "lover" had often spoken of his younger Brother in a fashion that was more akin to how a younger brother would speak of his elder. He had long wanted to achieve and surpass Aed in many fashions, which was part of the reason he had agreed to taking part in the siege on Toulouse when offered. He'd always hated that his Brother was recognized as the man who had killed one of the infamous leaders of the Mongol Horde, something he would never be able to emulate. His part in assuring Toulouse's fall had gone a long way to improving his own self-image, but now the news of his brother marrying and bedding the young, beautiful Muriel Canmore would be sure to inflame his jealousy once more.
So she lay nude on the bed waiting for him, knowing he'd be desperate to prove his virility as soon as possible. She chuckled to herself, she knew him better than he knew himself, he was so predictable, he would burst in at any moment and she would act surprised, then let him "dominate" her and assuage his insecurities between her thighs. Once sated, she would whisper into his ear as she often did, and quietly dictate policy for the running of Toulouse as she'd once done in Edinburgh and York.
Adam stalked angrily down the corridors, frightened servants darting aside when they saw the black rage in his face. He twisted a corner inwardly cursing his younger brother, then burst into the room at the end of the corridor, the woman lying on the bed sitting up in shock.
"Wha... what is going on?" she asked.
"Nae time fer talk, Mor!" snapped Adam, pulling off his shirt as his wife stared at him with wide eyes,"Get ye kit off woman, we've got an heir to make!"