Part 50: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 49Ex-Communication.
The word had been much on Aodh Canmore's mind of late, though not due to any fear that Scotland could face such a fate. The new Pope, Villanus, was obsessed with heresy and did not seem capable of understanding why others might not share his same passion. The Kings of Hungary and Denmark had only recently joined the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in discovering this to their detriment, when their denouncing of heretics in their Empires had not happened at a fast enough pace for Villanus' liking.
It was Villanus' contention that heresy eroded the authority of the Church, and the only way to stamp out heresy was to exert the Church's authority dramatically. He had gone so far as to write letters to the rulers of all the Catholic Nations, expressing this desire, and Aodh had read those sent to Domnall with keen interest, curious to get an inside look at the workings of the "Christ On Earth's" mind.
With these thoughts on his mind, Aodh moved silently through the streets of Genoa. He had retired early to his chambers complaining of headache, then disguised himself in hood and cloak and ventured out of the palace and into the streets. The skills that Nevin had taught him served him well, as he confirmed to his own satisfaction that he was not being followed on his way to his rendezvous. He slid down a dank alley and found himself standing by the heavy wooden door of a large merchant warehouse, which he rapped on in the careful, pre-arranged code.
A different knock answered him, and he knocked again in the pre-arranged fashion before the door was unbolted and opened for him, a similarly cloaked and hooded figure stepping aside to allow him entry. Aodh stepped through without a word and the door was closed and bolted behind him, then the man who had opened it lead him deeper into the warehouse, where two other men in ragged cloaks stood waiting.
"Prince Aodh," said one of the waiting men,"This meeting is as welcome as it was unexpected."
"This meeting is as dangerous as it is foolhardy," replied the other man,"Let us be done with this quickly, then go our separate ways as quickly as possible."
"Indeed," nodded Aodh,"But while we are here, let us talk of the Church and the Pope.... and what may be done to correct its inadequacies."
The four men gathered together, an unlikely quartet. One was a Prince of Scotland, but the other three were all noted heretics, their lives forfeit by order of Pope Villanus. Just being seen with them was enough to gain the attention of the Inquisition, to discuss openly religious issues with them was to almost guarantee death and ex-communication.
Aodh was taking his greatest risk yet.
Dougall Macdonchie stared up the hill at the massive fortress-city of Toledo, grinning behind his helm as he considered the challenge of the easily defended city. As had been predicted, the presence of King Domnall to the South and drawn all of Spain's armies in the field towards Cordoba. That was reckless tactics at best, made possible by King Mallobo's hot blooded temper, and Dougall was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Part of the reason the armies had moved South was also down to Toledo's natural defensive formations and large city-garrison. Toledo's new Governor Gomes was a favorite of Mallobo's and had been named new heir after Domnall had killed Prince Ferrando, and as such he had a large bodyguard at his disposal and some of the best, most capable men to defend his Fortress.
"Be conservative with your cannonballs, men," Dougall ordered his Bombards as he rode along the frontline of his men,"Toledo sits on four levels, each guarded by strong stone walls and gates. The Spanish will be forced to retreat from us multiple times today, I have nae doubt, and we will need ye to smash through them for us."
The Bombard Commander nodded and saluted with a grin, and Dougall continued on down the lines, offering words of encouragement and a jovial exchange when it seemed appropriate. This entire campaign felt different to any other Dougall had taken part in. The campaign against Milan had been filled with a savage hatred as the Scottish under his command had released pent up fury at the nation that had needled and poked and prodded them as they had to sit and take it while first King Edward and then King Domnall dealt with the Mongols. The campaign against the Sicilians had been more like pest control gone wrong, as Dougall and Adam Canmore had found themselves fighting drugged up madmen desperate to kill as many Scotsmen as they could before their own inevitable demise. The campaign against Spain had a different feel, after the initial disorientation of Spain's attacks and preventative measures putting them on the back foot, the Scottish had plunged directly into Spanish land and made quick gains. The atmosphere in the camps was one of eagerness and even fun, as the Scottish enjoyed teaching the Spanish a lesson for breaking their alliance. Since the fall of Zaragoza - which had happened unseen a long time before Dougall led his men out of Toulouse, he knew that much - they had been in complete control of the entire campaign, with the Spanish seeming to fall over themselves to make it easy for Scotland to defeat them.
Even now, with Toledo presenting a daunting defensive concern, Dougall could not help but feel at peace. Everything seemed right, and he had no doubt that despite the formidable nature of Gomes' men, Toledo would be his by the end of the day.
"FIRE!" he roared, and the Bombards fired on the city gates, tearing through them quickly as the soldiers standing the walls quickly moved off of them and deeper into the city. They understood that the first line of defense had been breached, and had fallen back in the hopes of thinning the Scottish horde now thundering towards them.
The fighting was bloody and close, no room for anything fancier than shoving swords at the soldier opposite. The Spanish were well armored and equipped, and disciplined to hold their places against overwhelming odds. The Scottish were not armored as well as their Spanish opponents, but their weapons were of quality, their fighting spirit undaunted, and they had the huge numbers advantage. Sheer weight alone began to tell on the Spanish as the Scottish infantry continued to charge through the shattered remains of the city gate, and finally the Spanish Commander called for his men to retreat back to Toledo's first interior wall. As they moved, men posted on that wall sent word back to Toledo's inner-most courtyard, and Prince Gomes gritted his teeth in a fury. Much like his mentor, King Mallobo, he had a temper that easily drove him into fits of rage with his subordinates, but unlike Mallobo he recognized this for the character flaw it was and refused to let it rule him.
"Send forward another two units of Swordsmen," he hissed through gritted teeth to his Second,"Have them hold the hill, ensure they have the interior wall at their backs so the Scottish have to come uphill in a narrow formation to get at them. Their primary duty is to keep that damned Bombard from getting into a position to fire on our gates."
His Second saluted and moved away, and Gomes again cursed the fate that had seen him made heir to the Spanish Throne, a privilege he had dreamed off all of his young life.
Now his dream had become a nightmare.
"Crossbows," Dougall said when word reached him off the new units standing on the hill before the first interior wall, joined by the fleeing Spanish who had engaged with his men after they entered the City,"Fire on them from a distance and draw them off, then send in the Infantry to surround them and put them to the sword."
"My Lord," nodded his Second, then hesitated,"The Spanish will surely see this for the trap it is?"
"Aye," replied Dougall,"But recognizing a trap and standing still while crossbow bolts are fired into ye flank are two different things. They'll have no choice but to attack and trust in their own sword arms to save them.... when faced with certain death, men must make decisions in battle they ken will likely be the death of them. Better to trust to chance than to stand still and accept death."
Dougall's words proved true, Crossbowmen circled around Toledo's buildings and opened fire on the Spanish holding the hill, and they reacted as expected. The Unit Commander knew he could not retreat back through the gate, Prince Gomes would only send him back out again, but he also knew if they charged the crossbowmen, Scottish Infantry would come up on them from behind.
"I'm not going to stand and die trying to decide between a rock and a hard place," he scowled at last,"Attack men, and watch your backs!"
"Bombards, I want that second gate down!" Dougall snapped as word reached him that the Spanish Units were being torn to shreds by the Scottish. He turned to stare at his mounted Bodyguard,"Time to enter the City lads, keep an eye out for Gomes, if he's stupid he'll attempt a cavalry charge on our infantry, and I want to be ready to ride on him the moment he comes out of hiding."
The Spanish tore free from the Scottish that had managed to come at them from two sides, the survivors running in desperation up the hill towards the walls. They scrambled through the gates, knowing that there were Scottish behind them, not stopping to think about the fact that the gates were open and twisted metal lay bunched on the ground in front of them. They twisted around the wall in relief, knowing that there would be more Spanish waiting to give them aid....
....and they ran directly into the Scottish that had all ready moved through the gates after the Bombards blew through them.
Gomes clenched his fist angrily as news reached him that the Scottish had breached the first interior wall, and ordered another Armored Swordsman Commander before him.
"Do you think you can follow orders, unlike your predecessors?" he snapped.
"My Prince!" saluted the Commander, understanding immediately. He ordered his men to follow him, as they moved through the city towards the second interior wall in an attempt to hold it against the Scottish. As he left, Gomes cursed himself for not putting all 800 of his men behind the City Gate to create a massive killing corridor. He'd been concerned that the severe losses they would have faced would have caused his men to break and the Scottish to win the city by default, but now it seemed they were going to win it in bits and pieces, as his own men were cut down piecemeal until he had none left. There were only three options left to him now, he could wait here and die; abandon the city; or....
"Prepare the men," he ordered the Commander of his Bodyguard,"I have a plan."
As Gomes gave his orders, the Spanish Swordsmen he'd sent to almost certain death were facing it, as they attempted to hold the overwhelming Scottish numbers at a chokepoint before the hill leading to the second interior defensive wall. They meant to hold their position no matter what, but as had all ready been proven earlier in the battle, there was a difference between thinking of facing overwhelming odds to the death and actually doing it. All it took was one soldier breaking, and then another and another, and suddenly all of them were fleeing back towards the uncertain safety of the wall.
"FOLLOW THEM!" ordered the Highland Captain,"THEY'LL OPEN THE GATES FOR THEIR COUNTRYMEN AND LET US IN WITH THEM!"
As the Scottish fought with the Spanish trying to hold the gate, word was sent back to Dougall that the bulk of the remaining Spanish Infantry seemed to be bunched together in the nearby Courtyard.
"Why aren't they aiding their countrymen?" Dougall wondered aloud,"It does nae matter, send Crossbowmen up onto the walls and have them fire on the waiting Spanish from above. If that does nae jolt them into action, our Highlanders and Spearmen will soon enough."
"There is nae word on Prince Gomes, my Lord," noted his Second.
"Aye, he'll be behind the last wall, hoping against hope for a miracle," grunted Dougall,"I had heard he was easily riled, but it seems he was nae more than an angry coward, hiding away from the battle. I swear these Spanish Generals seem to be more interested in shiny armor and brushing their hair than fighting war."
"The Spanish are being slaughtered, my Lord," noted Dougall's Second as word came back to him on the progress of the Scottish,"It seems only the final Gate remains between us and Prince Gomes."
"Good good, it is time we joined our men on the frontline then," nodded Dougall,"Order the men forward."
They moved their houses at a quick pace through Toledo, approaching the corpses of the first wave of Spanish that the Infantry had all ready dealt with.... and Dougall was given a reminder why it never paid to make assumptions of victory before the last of the enemy had been put to the sword.
"CHARGE!" screamed Gomes, giving full vent to his fury as he charged his Mounted Bodyguard out from between two houses and into the side of Dougall's own Bodyguard, slashing with their swords. The Spanish Prince had moved his men through a side gate as the Scottish Infantry was distracted fighting the Spanish at the gate, and been able to move them unseen through Toledo to lay in wait to ambush Dougall.
"IT'S A TRAP!" screamed Dougall, slashing with his sword as a Spaniard tried to take his head off,"FIGHT FOR YE LIVES!"
"SCOTSMAN!" roared Gomes, charging his horse towards Dougall, who had his back to the Spanish Prince as he fought Gomes' men,"I'LL KILL YOU SCOTSMA-"
Dougall's Second had been separated from his General in the heat of battle, but he had heard Gomes' cry and seen him charging. Lashing out with his sword, he caught Gomes high in the chest with his blade, sending him flying off of his horse and crashing to the ground. Horses rode over him in the confusion and desperation of the fight, and King Mallobo lost his second heir
The last of the Spanish were quickly put down, Gomes' desperate last gamble not paying off. Dougall cleaned his blade, and then grinned as he heard the sound of cheering coming from deeper within the city.
"It's over," he grinned,"Toledo is ours."
Toledo was Scotland's.
King Mallobo ordered the quivering messenger gone with an oddly flat voice, then crumpled up the note telling of Toledo's fall and Gomes' death and tossed it aside.
"First Ferrando, now Gomes," he grunted,"Who shall lead Spain when I am gone?"
His options now were few, there was Diago Ruberto who was leading the siege on King Domnall at Cordoba, but despite Ruberto's strengths he had proven in the past that his loyalty only stretched as far as his own self interest.
Not for the last time, he considered his pathetic son, Bernardo. The boy had showed promise in his youth, but for too long he had coasted along on Mallobo's own fearsome reputation to instill fear, rather than his own actions. He also lacked the spine for political maneuvering, far too keen to have the nobility consider him a friend while taking out his aggressions on the common people. Mallobo had given him the Governorship of Leon to the North to see how he dealt with ruling a City, and so far his disappointment in his son's actions had been only made worse by Bernardo's seeming belief that his Father was rewarding and honoring him, rather than testing him.
Still, he did bring in a lot of money through taxes.
King Mallobo winced as a sudden bolt of pain ripped through his chest, and he grabbed at his heart with one hand as the other slammed against the wall for support. He gritted his teeth and the veins on his neck stood out as he fought through a pain that seemed endless and then finally, mercifully, was gone. He slumped to his knees, sweating profusely and feeling an unfamiliar weakness in his limbs that he did not like.
"Not yet," he finally managed in a ragged whisper,"I have too much work to do yet...."
Aodh sat once more with the three Heretics, this time in yet another seemingly randomly chosen location within Genoa. Despite previous concerns over the dangers of meeting, their encounters had proven so mutually satisfactory that they'd agreed to meet again. The man that Aodh had come to think of as the leader - Pontius - had organized a drop point for Aodh to discover the location of their next meeting place, and only with an hour's notice. Such paranoia was how Pontius had lived as long as he had, and his two companions - Cederno and Pero - were more than happy to follow his lead.
"Will you tell us more of your vision, Prince Aodh?" Cederno asked with a smile as they settled down,"I am curious as to the symbolism of the fields and Scotland's previous enemies by the roadside."
"Pah," snapped Pontius,"It was nothing more than Aodh's mind telling him a truth his conscious mind would not accept, that the Pope and the Church are the enemies of the world."
"Now now," smiled Pero uneasily,"God speaks to us all in different ways, something the Church cannot and will not accept, but something true nonetheless. We are blessed to have Prince Canmore with us."
Aodh smiled, the three heretics were as different and opinionated as some of the scholars he remembered from his youth, arguing passionately amongst themselves as they were overseen by his Father, a man who had craved and loved new discoveries, new information, and further education. It had taken Aodh a long time to respect not just his Father, but his Father's need to know and understand things others took on faith. How he wished the man he was now could talk to his Father, but they would not meet again until the Day of Judgment, and who knew what might conspire to keep them apart while they waited to learn their fates from God himself.
For everything that Aodh knew now, he still did not know if his Father would be forgiven for his lack of faith.
Pontius was a complete skeptic, he did not believe in either God or Religion, but in science and education. He believed man was an animal that had learned to dominate and control its environment, and that self-awareness was nothing more than an accident, a twist of fate.
Cederno was a believer, but in an entirely different God to that of the Catholic Church. He believed that God was a being of such immense magnitude that man could not understand him in anything but metaphor and symbolism, and that the Bible as taught by the Church now was merely the translations of disparate authors of the symbology and metaphor they had encountered in their time.
Pero was also a believer, but in the concept of God as opposed to the strict religious guidelines as laid down by the Catholic Church. He believed that every man was capable of a personal relationship with God, but one filtered through their own beliefs and concepts. Like Cederno he felt that God was something beyond the ability of man to understand, and thus every person would see God differently.... and thus the Bible and the teachings of the Church could not be seen as the Word of God, because the Word was filtered through the imperfect understanding of different men.
Aodh had told them of his vision in great detail, but it was one particular facet that had enthralled them all, even Pontius. In his vision, as Aodh had dropped to his knees trying to make a decision as to which of the four roads to take, a white light had shone on him and a booming voice spoken, a voice he believed to be that of God. What it had said had been cryptic but unmistakable in its implications.
"The Rock of my Church erodes, Aodh Canmore, you will give it strength once more."
"The Rock of the Catholic Church is the Pope," mused Cederno,"That symbol has always been clear, even if nothing else in the Bible is."
"And the erosion means that the Pope is weakening the Church with his clamp-down on heresy," nodded Pero.
"And you will strengthen it, Aodh," finished Pontius,"In anyone else I would say that was personal vanity, but not you. You are one of the only people in the world who could challenge the authority of the Pope and maybe survive it. Scotland rules over half of the world and your devotion to the Church has always been known... and the tale of how you challenged and bested the Inquisition is the stuff of legend amongst the common people. If you were to speak out against the Pope and call for the Church to accept the idea of different interpretations of religion.... including atheism.... you might be able to pull it off."
"What do the rest of ye think?" Aodh asked,"It was hard to get ye together, but I did so because the three of ye are considered amongst the most influential and well regarded of the "heretics"."
"Yes, yes," nodded Cederno,"Every day that the Church presses its constrictive interpretation of the Bible on man is a day too far."
"....yes," mumbled Pero nervously, then more resolutely,"Yes, I am tired of the Pope telling me how I must feel about God."
Aodh stood and pressed his hands against the table,"That was what I was waiting for, resolution and determination, ye have made my course of action clear, and it can be nae other way."
The three Heretics leaned forward eagerly to hear what he had to say next, but he spoke only one word, and despite the loudness with which he spoke it, they did not immediately understand.
Realization dawned in Pontius' eyes first, shock followed by utter dismay, and then the doors around them burst open and armed guards stormed in, grabbed the three Heretics and slamming them roughly to the floor, pikes pressed against the backs of their necks.
"Take them away," he ordered coldly,"They are to be charged with heresy and blasphemy."
Pontius spat at Aodh in a rage as he was dragged away, but the Scottish Prince did not deign to react, simply watching as the three men were removed, and then new men entered.
"We thank you, Prince Canmore," nodded Lanbertus de Arizio, Inquisitor of the Catholic Church,"These three have long eluded Justice."
"Your Faith is beyond reproach, Prince Canmore," added Gratianus Martini, another Inquisitor,"It must have galled you to hear such blasphemy and have to bear it."
"We all must make sacrifices for God," Aodh replied, and the two Inquisitors nodded in understanding, before moving on and leaving Aodh alone in the room.
"Even if they are human sacrifices," Aodh thought to himself, his face blank against the possibility he was still being observed,"God forgive me, but I did what must be done."