Part 57: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 56The Scottish army stretched out before the walls of Vilnius, Capital City of the Danish Empire. Its walls were not higher than the walls of other cities that had fallen before the Scottish, nor were they thicker or armed with more men. But these walls WERE different, and Domnall knew it, Aodh's talented spies had made that clear to him.
He rode his horse along the frontlines, smiling and sharing words of encouragement with the men, many of who stared up at him with awe. Grey was beginning to creep through his beard, but the King radiated a presence undiminished by time, and those who had questioned whether he was past his prime had been struck silent. He was Domnall Canmore, King Domnall the Merciless, son of the brilliant Edmund Canmore, nephew of the near mythical Edward Canmore, and all knew him.
Including the Mongols.
"Do ye ken who I am, lads?" Domnall asked, stopping before the Mongol Mercenaries that had been under Angus' command and were now his men.
"You are the Kanmor Khan," replied the Mongol Leader,"The Domnall Khan.... you killed the Horde."
"And?" asked Domnall, eyes narrowing.
"Nothing, Great Lord," replied the Mongol,"The Horde was strong... the Skot-tish were stronger... now we are Skot-tish."
"It's nae as simple as that, lad," Domnall grinned, and turned on his horse to point at the walls,"Show me ye strength is worthy of Scotland, bring down that wall for me."
The Mongol - Abuqha - grinned, exposing several missing teeth, and saluted the King as he rode away. Turning, he barked harsh orders to his men, who quickly set up the Rocket Launchers, a devilish device whose origins were unknown even to the Mongols themselves. All those who served Domnall knew was half-superstition and half religious - strange and obviously false tales of a green and verdant land far to the East where almond-eyed half-breeds of man and demon lived beyond a great wall that spread the length of the world, and were led into battle by demon-faced men of metal who controlled fire and could kill with their hands. But what the Mongols did know was how to use these rockets to great effect, as the 1000 Danes guarding the city of Vilnius were about to find out.
Rockets thundered against the walls - some crashing to the ground before the walls and others whizzing over to hit buildings within the city and set them on fire - but most hit their mark against the massive stone walls. Again and again the rockets hit and exploded, the Danish soldiers standing on the walls ducking and bracing as the wall shook under the steady impact.... and then finally the assault relented, as the Mongols ran out of the rockets they had prepared.
And the walls of Vilnius still stood.
"How is this possible," gaped Abuqha, staring at the walls which were cratered and blackened but still solid,"Never has a wall held up to our rockets."
"This is the Capital City of a race of warriors who plundered and pillaged their way across the world, lad," laughed Kirk, the Bombard Commander whose men were positioned besides the Mongols,"They built those walls to last, it'll take more than a few little rockets to take them down."
Kirk turned and barked an order to his men, and they began loading the Bombards as Kirk threw his arm around Abuqha's shoulders and laughed as the surprised Mongol flinched in surprise, then shared his wisdom with the mercenary.
"It's going to take A REALLY BIG rocket!"
"If I may, my King," Hew Mar asked King Domnall, sitting his horse beside him as they watched the Bombards thundering against the walls,"What was the purpose of humiliating the Mongols like that? Our man inside the City warned us about the remarkable strength of the walls."
"HA!" spat Angus with contempt, shaking his head, while Domnall's face remained fixed on the walls, his hatred for the Danes dancing in his eyes even though his face remained blank.
"Because the Mongols respect strength," the King replied finally,"So they will nae take it as humiliation, while our men will be keen to show off to them their own prowess. It will bring them closer together, the Scots as teachers and the Mongols as students, and once they have fought together, they will be Brothers. The Mongols need a Horde, I mean to see to it that every one of that cursed race who survived extermination come to consider themselves true Scotsmen."
A great cheer suddenly rose up from the men, and Domnall allowed a cruel smile to lift one corner of his mouth. The Bombards had smashed their way through the wall that the Mongols had weakened, and Danes were scrambling to race to safety as the ground beneath them collapsed.
The walls of Vilnius had been breached.
"My Father was a warm man, friendly and loving, good humored," Aodh Canmore had started, sitting in the interior garden alongside his friend and closest confidant, Nevin of Shetland. The War with Spain was over, Scotland was once more at peace, and Nevin - who had made a career of knowing people better than they knew themselves - found himself less and less able to read Aodh. During the Sicilian Campaign, Aodh's confidence had grown dangerously overbearing, he'd become arrogant, and Nevin had been forced to humble him for his own good. But when he'd returned from his own larger than life adventures in Zaragoza, he'd found Aodh Canmore harder to read than ever, completely confident in himself without falling back into arrogance... and involved in a potentially lethal game with the only thing that could challenge the might of The Scottish Empire - The Church.
Aodh had refused to tell Nevin his plans, and the Spy had felt oddly... left out. As if he couldn't believe that Aodh had grown to the point where he no longer needed Nevin's help. Aodh had seemed to sense this, and sensed his unease and disappointment, and had settled down with Nevin to tell him something that previously had only been shared with his own Brother.
He told him of the "special mission" his brother The King had given him.
"But in battle, my Father became "numb","Aodh continues,"That was his word for it. He felt a numbness pass over him and he became detached from the world. Detached from emotion, detached from fear or sympathy or nausea. The men he struck down in battle were nothing to him, the fear that the greatest Mongol Leaders instilled in their opponents washed over him to nae effect. Even the wellbeing of those closest to him, included his beloved brother Edward, meant nothing - if a man could be thought to be capable of removing his soul, then my Father did just such a thing when he was in battle."
"But when the battle was over, the numbness faded, and he was Edmund Canmore again. He was the man who bought gifts for his children when he returned from journeys or war; he was the man who loved his wife and his family; the man who loved to pursue knowledge and question everything; the man who could stand beaming in a room full of arguing theologians and philosophers as he soaked up their wisdom... or lack thereof. He was my Father, and though his greatest attention was always for his older sons - Nectan and Domnall - he was always kind to me, always showed me love and made me know how important I was to him. There are nae so many boys who can say the same about their fathers, whether Noble or Common, and I was smart enough to ken how lucky I was and nae feel anger or resentment for the greater attention he gave my brothers. Truth be told, Nevin, I welcomed it, because I had no expectations attached. Nevin was the smart one, the one who had inherited Father's desire to question everything. Domnall was the leader and the fighter. I was but the extra son, the one who would have been shipped off to Govern some small inconsequential city out of the way and raise a few Grandchildren for my Father to dote over on infrequent visits... or at least I would have been if I hadn't shown such an interest in the Church at a young age. I was marked for the Church early, and I think in his wilder moments my Uncle Edward harbored fantasies that one day I would become Pope, though Father knew I was more likely for the Priesthood or some kind of theological scholar."
"When Father died, my first thought was for my Father's eternal soul. He was a good and kind man, but he did nae believe in God, and that marked him for Hell. I prayed for his soul, and gave no thought as to my fate. My destiny in the Church had been sidelined by an unfortunate ex-communication through no fault of my Uncle or Father's, and I'd found myself at a loose end, dabbling somewhat unwanted in the fields that were my brother's domains. Nectan had tried his best to tutor me, and Domnall seemed mostly uninterested... until I saw the chance to serve Scotland and the Church at the same time and sent men to kill Sultan Tutush, leader of the Turks. My plan succeeded, but Domnall was outraged and berated me for my short-sightedness, and took it upon himself to teach me the personal side of warfare."
Aodh leaned back against the trunk of the tree and stretched his legs, the smiled at Nevin with a sparkle in his eye,"Tell me true, Nevin, what was ye first impression of me when ye met me on the dusty road to Cairo?"
"Ye were... grief stricken by the death of ye Brother," Nevin offered diplomatically, then smiled,"And ye were still like a child, my Prince, ye seemed so unaware of the greater truth of the world outside of ye Bible and ye scrolls and tutoring."
"And yet ye tested me with the Inquisitor so early, Nevin," teased Aodh, and Nevin felt himself truly relaxing for the first time since the "unpleasantness" of Zaragoza.
"The Canmore Steel was always in ye, Aodh, it just needed to be brought out," Nevin smiled,"And the plague.... it had started the process, the Inquisitor just finished it."
"Aye the plague," sighed Aodh,"That is where it began.... but there is one thing I have always wondered, even to this day. The plague killed my brother, and ye came to me shortly after on the road to Cairo to lay his ashes to rest... but why me? Nectan was Spymaster because he was suited to the role... but why was I chosen to replace him?"
"Ahhh," Nevin had smiled,"That is a story in and of itself."
"KNIGHTS! HOLD THE LINE!" roared Captain Inge, commander of the Garrison at Vilnius. The Capital had been left in his command by King Bjorn himself, and he would be damned if he was going to let the Scottish take it. They'd breached the walls, and now hundreds of the feared Scottish Infantry were charging through the snowy fields before the walls,"HOLD THE LINE! ANY COWARD WHO RUNS FOR HIS LIFE WILL LOSE IT TO MY BLADE!"
Flaming arrows arced over the walls and amongst the men, who to their credit held formation as they roughly beat out the flames or snuffed it under handfuls of snow. Those struck in limbs then pulled the arrows free, staunched the blood as best as they could and braced themselves again. Those unlucky enough to be struck fatally were pulled aside by comrades and left on the ground, the thoughts of the living unable to be wasted on the dead. Inge watched as the Scottish approached, and thanked God quietly that at least the breach was in the wall and the City Gate still held in place, restricting where the Scottish could enter the city.
And then, of course, the Gates opened.
"A SPY!" roared Inge in fury,"HOLD THEM AT THAT GaTE!"
And the battle was joined.
Unlike the Danes the Scottish had recently fought in the field, these could not turn and run in the hopes of finding safety in the fields and forests. The Danes held in place, fighting for their lives and every foot of territory that the Scottish wanted to gain. They were fierce; they were skilled; they were well armored and equipped; they were excellently trained; they stood in similar numbers to those of their enemies....
They were no match for the Scottish.
The Mongols watched in awe as - if by sheer force of will - the Scottish forced themselves through the gate and the breach in the wall and drove back the heavily armored Danes.
"This is our new Horde," Abuqha whispered,"It is greater than anything Genghis Khan ever dreamed of."
The Danes flung themselves at the Scottish in their desperate last-gasp effort to keep them from fully entering the City. Danes were cut down and lay in great heaps, Scots falling alongside them but in lesser numbers, and being replaced by more and more. Deep in the back of the minds of the Danes the ugly reptilian voice of survival was beginning to hiss and bite, telling them to run from the death looming over them. Thought of Captain Inge's threat held most, but finally one man and then another broke, and when they saw what had become of Captain Inge, the cry went up that broke the rest of the Danes as well.
"CAPTAIN INGE HAS RUN! CAPTAIN ANGE HAS FLED THE BATTLE!"
They broke and ran, but in their mindless terror to get deeper into the city to find some kind of sanctuary, they ran through the ranks of the Scottish swelling through the gates. Scotsmen struck the fleeing Danes down by their scores, and within minutes the hundreds who had been standing and fighting had been whittled down to tens, and then ten, and then one, and finally none.
The Scottish held the gates of Vilnius, and they shared it with the dead of Denmark.
In Antioch, Aodh Canmore had stood before a man whom even time and the closeness of death had not diminished, and fought miserably to hide his fear.
"Come closer, lad," the man lying on his deathbed spoke,"I would see ye eyes when we speak."
Aodh approached, and the man peered at him with those horrible dead eyes. Even propped up by pillows and painfully thin, Fearghus Campbell was still an awing presence, and Aodh struggled to meet his eyes.
"Ye did nae have ye dream, lad," Fearghus whispered, his voice harsh,"Ye did nae get to live a life amongst the dusty scrolls and books of the Church, far from the machinations and unpredictable actions of men."
"what of it?" Aodh asked, trying to hide his nervousness and growing fear, not very successfully.
"Ye Father died well, lad," Fearghus said, a sick grin on his face,"Better than any man could hope for, with a peace of mind few have ever had before.... will I die as well, do ye think?"
"...I....I...." started Aodh, unsure how to continue.
"Whatever it is eating away at my insides will nae let me live much longer, young Prince," Fearghus grinned, and despite the wasted nature of his body, he seemed to radiate health and rationality, and Aodh had a sudden, suspicious fear that the man's body would die but he would keep on talking, keep looking around and seeing things that others did not and plotting and planning as he had in life,"And maybe I do nae have the peace of mind that ye Father had... maybe I fear for my eternal soul, and infinity in the clutches of Satan? Maybe I seek absolution for my sins, for though they were in service to Scotland, they were sins indeed... I have killed and caused to be killed, Aodh Canmore, and I have held the lives of men in my power without ever meeting them, and used them like pawns to achieve a destiny they were unaware of.... I have set myself early in life on the path to hell, paved with good intentions as it may have been.... and I ask ye now, will ye release me from that damnation? Will ye grant me absolution?"
"Ye... ye want me to absolve ye of ye sins?" asked Aodh, shock and outrage overwhelming his fear of the man who had been the boogeyman of his youth,"I am not a Priest, Campbell!"
"Aye lad, but if ye were... would ye absolve me of my sins? Would you at least hear my confession?"
Aodh stared at the man in the bed, and Fearghus watched with mounting excitement as he saw a fire grow in the young Prince's eyes, and watched his entire body shift in place till he held himself in a completely different manner to usual.
"I would hear ye confession, yes ye vile bastard!" Aodh spat, fire in his eyes but his voice cold and composed, inhuman,"And then I would tell ye that there was no absolution for a man who did nae believe, and confessed only from fear. I would tell ye of the inevitable torments that were waiting for ye, and I would hope that ye final thoughts on dying are that every moment of the eternity of suffering ye will face were richly deserved, and that eternity was nae enough!"
Aodh finished and glared coldly at Fearghus, and then the fire faded from his eyes and his posture shifted back to its usual position, and he looked shocked by what he had just said. He stared at Fearghus as if waiting for the monstrous figure that had haunted his childhood nightmares to raise up from the bed and point at him, denounce him for his unchristian attitudes. Denounce him and make all aware off the secret workings of his mind - the terrifying detachment and almost mechanical working of his inner thoughts that went against every Christian ideal he had. But Fearghus did not react that way, instead a wide smile spread across his face and he roared with laughter, hale and hearty and healthy, and Aodh fled from the room in horror.
Fearghus stopped laughing and coughed roughly, and a hand pressed against his back and steadied him. From the shadows stepped a hooded man who had watched the proceedings at Fearghus' request, and after Fearghus' coughing had subsided, he stepped back and waited for his Master to speak.
"I always knew he had the Canmore steel in him, perhaps more than any of them," wheezed Fearghus, grinning happily,"This recent business with the plague made it clearer than ever that we needed a backup plan.... if the worst should happen, if Nectan Canmore perishes.... ye must forge the steel inside Aodh."
And though Nevin of Shetland had thought it unlikely that such would ever come to pass, he had agreed.
Castle Vilnius sat atop an easily defended hill, the main entrance opening out onto a hill leading down into the central city square. Captain Inge had fled from the Scottish in a panic at seeing their relentless push through men he had trained himself and had thought the match of any soldiers in the world. Now he sat his horse in the City Square with Castle Vilnius looming up high behind him, seeming to bear over him as if the King was still inside, staring down at him and judging him. His Cavalry sat at the rear of the reserve Infantry who had heard the cries that he had fled, cries that contradicted his tale that he had ridden back to command the defense of the Square. They stared at him, and he saw the contempt in their eyes, struggling for dominance with their fear of the Scots.
"We can turn this Square into a slaughterhouse, men," he spoke, struggling to keep his voice even as the men glared up at him,"We failed at the walls before we did not hold them back, but there they poured through unfiltered.... here they must travel narrowly down the streets and come against us a few at a time, if we can hold them back, the only thing we need fear are our sword-arms growing tired!"
The men glared at him without reply, and then a cry rose up, a massive cheer from the Scottish further up in the city.
"What are they cheering about?" Inge asked, fearing he knew the answer. Moments later his fears were confirmed, as the call came down from the men stationed within the Castle Towers to give warning of the movements of the Scottish.
"HE COMES! THE SCOTTISH KING IS RIDING ON THE CITY WALLS!"
"Then we kill a King today, men!" roared Inge, hoping that he could convince them since he could not convince himself. If King Domnall was truly coming, then they were all dead men, even if they survived the battle.
King Domnall the Merciless did not take prisoners.
"The hell with this!" shouted a Dane suddenly, then turned and pointed up at Inge,"And the hell with this coward! If the Scottish King is coming to kill us, then I'll not stand here like a woman and wait for death to come! I'm going to go out there and meet it head on!"
He stormed away and Inge opened his mouth to order the man back into place, but then another joined him, and then another and another, and then some of Inge's own horsemen rode past him, and then more, and Inge stared in horror as the Danes rode towards certain death.
His horror only grew as he found himself joining them.... and that reptilian hiss of survival become a muted weak roar of disbelief as he rode past them all and ahead of them, and he realized the roaring noise he could hear was himself screaming his defiance as he rode directly into the oncoming Scottish Cavalry, and the cheers and cries of encouragement were coming from the men that had only moments ago hated him.
He had just enough time to enjoy their adulation before death took him.
Vilnius - Capital City of Denmark - was now Scotland's.
"I was the opposite of my Father," Aodh continued, after taking in Nevin's story,"After the plague, after Nectan died... I felt guilt that I had survived, that I had lived when someone far more useful and important to Scotland had lived. Ye gave me purpose, Nevin, when ye told me I was to become the new Spymaster of Scotland, but I still felt an odd detachment... like I wasn't quite connected to the world anymore. The feeling only grew worse, and I found myself taking advantage of my brother's grief over the death of Nectan to fulfill the plans I had... and I felt nothing, no guilt, no distaste... I was just doing what I felt was right."
Aodh's eyes tracked up to the stone balconies surrounding the gardens, and when he did not see what he appeared to be looking for, he returned to his story.
"I grew progressively more numb, but unlike my Father, it was not during battle but at every other point. In fact, in battle was the only time I felt truly attached to the world, so I pushed myself further, and I took out my aggressions and rage and grief for my Father on the Sicilians, and I wiped them from the face of the Earth.... and that is when Domnall found me, and made me bow before him, then embraced me and called me his Brother true, and I finally felt an attachment to the world again outside of battle, I finally felt an emotion.... and it was guilt."
Aodh's eyes tracked around the balconies again, then returned to Nevin, who was waiting patiently. Almost everything he had told him so far he all ready knew, it was all just a precursor to the revelation of his "special mission", the one that the King had given him.
"In Milan, as preparations were underway for the wedding of ye half-brother to my niece Deredere, Domnall finally told me about the "special mission" he had in store for me," Aodh explained,"And it was nae what I expected. It was nae a campaign or a plot or diplomacy.... nae, he saw in me the numbness that was so different to what our Father had experienced, and he told me that he meant to see me gain the peace of mind that my Father knew."
"Tha... that was it?" asked Nevin, finding himself flummoxed for the first time in a long time,"He wanted ye to be happy?"
"It's nae as simple as it sounds, Nevin," smiled Aodh, looking up at the stone balconies again,"He wanted me to be happy; he wanted me to feel attached to the world and to my people, and to my family and to him; he wanted me to be a better man, the type of man our Father was.... and that meant I had to give up the inner detachment that was also one of my greatest strengths. When I was detached, I could plot and plan without my own.... humanity.... getting in the way. I was raised believing - and I still believe - in true Christian values, and if I wasn't numb, if I wasn't detached, then I knew I would not be capable of doing my duty as Spymaster for the Scottish Empire..... but I also WANTED to be a better man, I wanted to know the peace my Father knew, he was... he was the greatest man I ever knew, in spite of all his flaws, in spite of his atheism, I always wanted to be like him."
"I ken the ending to this story but nae how ye reached it, Aodh," Nevin said at last, after a long silence,"Ye are still Spymaster of the Scottish Empire, but at different times I have seen ye happy, and called ye my friend as well as my Master... but also seen ye make hard decisions and hard choices without any obvious emotional impact."
"Aye," nodded Aodh, and he stood and cocked his ear, a smile crossing his face as he heard something. Nevin's own exceptional hearing picked up multiple footsteps approaching, and from the weight and pace, he had a fair idea who it was... which meant his time with Aodh was growing shorter.
"My Prince... Aodh?" asked Nevin, getting his attention again,"Did ye fulfill ye mission?"
"I did," smiled Aodh,"Even as far back as Deredere's wedding I knew I could feel attached to the world again. But I was in distress for a long time after as I simultaneously dealt with the guilt of my continuing actions as Spymaster and the numbness that periodically affected my dealings with my family. I suffered in silence, until finally I found the answer in my prayers... or rather, in the daydreaming of my own mind while I prayed. Always that inner detachment is thinking and turning over ideas beneath all my other thoughts and feelings, and it came like a divine call to me all of a sudden, and I had the answer. It was my Father, of course, he was the answer."
The people Aodh had been waiting for moved into sight on the stone balconies overlooking the garden, and one spotted Aodh and called out to him. He waved back, and they moved quickly to find the stairs that led down to the garden where he waited.
"My Father was a Governor when he needed to be; a General when he had to be; Spymaster because it was required of him.... but he was always a Father," Aodh told Nevin, turning to smile at him,"And so I finally realized the answer was that I could not be one or the other, I must be both Spymaster and Father; both monster and man. I learned to separate utterly the one from the other, and I finally felt that peace of mind that my Father had been gifted with. His ability for contentment came from his utter conviction that there was no God, and that he had worked and achieved everything for his family. Mine comes from an utter conviction that there is a God, and that all I work for is both for my Family and a better Scotland, and that with a better Scotland will come a better world. So I can make the hard decisions, Nevin, and the cruel decisions, and sometimes I can even manipulate my own beloved Brother to achieve the greater good for Scotland, and I can do it all with a clear conscience and sleep soundly at night."
They entered the garden, and Nevin took the chance to ask his final question before they reached Aodh.
"But are ye, my Prince, or are ye truly at peace?"
Aodh knelt down and held out his arms, and the smallest of the group that had joined them in the garden rushed to him, leaping into his arms. He stood up and turned around, holding his youngest daughter in his arms, Ede, while the elder daughters - Joan, Ada and Ellen - stood with wide grins behind him alongside their Mother, Katherine.
"Where are we going today, Father?" asked Joan respectfully.
"A picnic, my dear," Aodh smiled,"And I shall show you a fun game I learnt in my own youth, in Cairo,
with a marvelous construction called a kite."
The girls all grinned up at their Father with obvious love, and Aodh smiled at Nevin.
"Yes Nevin, my friend," Aodh had smiled,"I truly am."
Nevin smiled at the memory that had come to him unbidden as he lay in bed. He was more devoted to Aodh than his first meeting had ever prepared him for, all those years ago, and it pleased him to know that his Master had such peace in his life. He only wished he himself could feel the same, but after decades of suppressing and hiding the impact of his life as a spy for Scotland, he found himself now haunted by nightmares of his actions and motives. He knew no inner peace, just a weary resignation to the "reward" he knew he had coming for him, and that right soon.
For Nevin had finally found a foe he could not out-think, that he could not out-maneuver or fool. Whatever wasting disease had killed Fearghus Campbell had journeyed through the years and decades to find him.
Nevin of Shetland was dying.
As the winter months stretched on, King Bjorn of Denmark suffered the humiliation of an occupying Scottish Force within his Capital City of Vilnius. In Halych where Bjorn spent his Winters, blame was beginning to be placed more openly on Bjorn for getting Denmark into this situation, and thoughts expressed as to how his brother Sten would never have allowed things to get so bad for the Danes.
In Vilnius itself, the Scottish had settled in for a comfortable winter, and the peoples of Vilnius had found that there was little difference to be found in being ruled by Danes or Scots... with the exception that everybody felt safer under the rule of a Scottish King than a Danish one.
Within Castle Vilnius, King Domnall had quickly settled into the role of Governor of Vilnius, and turned it into a temporary seat of power from which he undertook the duties of State. But thoughts of the war with Denmark were never far from his mind, and at least once a week he met with Angus and Hew to discuss how and where they would continue their assault come Spring. The first such meeting had happened within a week of the capture of Vilnius, and the results had been.... interesting.
"If we kill Bjorn," Domnall had grunted,"A new King will be crowned - probably Sten - and the Pope is likely to reconcile Denmark... which means a Holy Order not to kill any more Danish Catholics."
"So we leave Halych and take the rest of Denmark's Cities," Hew had nodded,"Then return to put an end to Bjorn."
"We let him watch as his Empire is taken from him piece by piece, city by city," grinned Angus cruelly,"Oh aye... I like the sound of that."
"Bjorn does nae concern me," grunted Domnall,"It's his Brother, Sten. At some point we must either take the war to him or he will bring it to us.... and he is nae Bjorn, some of that old Viking Spirit lives on in him."
"Bah, let me have him, my King!" snapped Angus,"If the Russians could nae kill me, no Dane shall!"
"And what of Niels Ebbesen?" asked Hew, raising an eyebrow,"Will ye kill Sten, Ebbesan and their personally trained army of thousands all by yeself? Will ye empty the garrisons holding control of our new Danish territory and take to ship to get to Oslo, leaving these lands ripe to be taken back by Bjorn... or the Polish? Or the Hungarians?"
"Are ye saying they're better than me, lad?" growled Angus dangerously,"What's so tough about this Ebessen, anyway?"
"The Tyrant Slayer," muttered Domnall, folding his fingers together,"Some say he was a common murderer, others a great hero. His presence alone lends his men strength and passion."
"The Mauler versus The Tyrant Slayer," grinned Angus, eyes taking on the wild shine that Hew was so used to by now,"That would be one for the bards to sing of."
"Angus," snapped Domnall suddenly, standing up and catching the attention of his two Generals,"Talk to the mercenary Captains ye brought with ye - including that Mongol, Abuqha - and find out if they ken any other large mercenary bands near Novgorod, then send the information to Roy Macgoulchane, I will have work for him in the Spring. I ken how to deal with Sten, sadly it's nae quite in the fashion I would have preferred... or ye, Angus."
He walked away, leaving the two Generals looking confused as they were left alone in the War Room.
"We're done then, I take it," Hew muttered at last,"That was decidedly unenlightening."
He stood and prepared to walk away, but Angus grabbed him by the wrist, halting him in place.
"Not quite yet, lad, we've got some issues to sort out first."
"Oh?" asked Hew, staring down at the smiling Mauler who still clutched his wrist, and not liking the smile on his face.
"I need to explain a few things to ye, lad, about being a bully."
"A bully?" Hew asked, confused.
"Aye lad, a bully," chuckled Angus,"Do ye ken what a bully is?"
"What is the meaning of thi-" grunted Hew, starting to get angry.
"A bully is someone who seeks the limits of power," Angus interrupted, still smiling, still clutching Hew's wrist,"Some say a bully is a coward hiding fear behind bluster, but that is nae true... at least, it is nae true in my case. I was a bully, Hew... in fact, I still am a bully, and all I'm doing is seeking to understand who has power and to what extent. King Domnall put me in my place, and I dinnae resent it, I respect it.... but now here we are in Vilnius, and ye and I are his Generals, and I dinnae ken which of us sits higher than the other, so I mean to find out."
"And how do ye intend to do that, Angus?" asked Hew, his anger replaced now by a coldness that caused Angus' grin to grow even wider, though it still did not touch his dead shark-like eyes.
"Oh Hew," chuckled Angus,"How have ye gotten this old without learning a few life lessons?"
Suddenly Angus shot up to his feet, his free hand lashing out and striking Hew in the chest, sending him stumbling backwards and crashing into one of the wooden chairs, shattering it into pieces. He lay wide eyed in the wreckage, then scrambled backwards as the grinning Angus approached him.
"Ye're insane!" Hew gasped, and Angus threw back his head and roared with laughter.
"Ahh lad, Macgoulchane had that figured out a lot sooner," he laughed, then stooped down and picked up a splintered chair leg,"Ye're a bit dim, are ye nae?"
Hew staggered to his feet as Angus thumped the chair leg in his palm, and then to the Mauler's surprise, a wide grin crossed the Scottish General's face.
"Oh? What's this?" Angus asked, delighted,"Ye have some balls after all?"
"A bit dim? Mayhaps," grinned Hew,"But I always learned the lessons my Father taught me, and if anyone could ken what being a bully was about, it was him."
"And what did he teach ye then, lad?" asked Angus.
"He taught me, 'lad'," grunted Hew, picking up one of the whole chairs and grinning at Angus,"That if some bastard comes at ye with a chair leg, ye come at him with a chair!"
And the two Scotsmen charged directly at each other.