Part 58: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 57"To peace, my friend," smiled Gordon of Edinburgh - Scottish Diplomat - raising his wine.
"To peace!" laughed Istvan Eszes - Hungarian Diplomat - returning the toast, and both men drank deeply.
"Well, it's a long way from reconciliation," grinned Istvan as he placed his wine back on the table,"But at least the "Christ-on-Earth" isn't sending armies our way anymore!"
"Not a believer, I take it?" asked Gordon conversationally, and Istvan smiled, recognizing the rather clumsy trap. Sometimes he wondered how as blunt a diplomat as Gordon could have received such a plum posting as Rome, and other times he wondered if it was all an act, as Scotland continued to gain concessions beyond any other Nation.
A servant approached to remove one of the near empty wine bottles and replace it with a full one, something that normally neither man would notice. But Istvan raised an eyebrow as the servant tripped on one of the rugs placed for effect in the spacious, warm and inviting dining room and had to stumble quickly to regain his footing.
"Oaf," grunted Gordon, rolling his eyes,"It's hard to find good help even in a City like Rome... the Diplomatic Academy insists that all my servants be Scottish, and that fool Angus is the bastard son of some wealthy merchant, so I've had him thrust onto me against my better nature."
The servant - whose name was Eoin, not Angus - did not react to the blatant insult to his parentage and his skills, simply standing quietly in the background and waiting for his services to be required again.
"The Pope has agreed to see me at some point within the next month," Istvan muttered, changing the subject,"A few minutes in one of his private committees on heresy to press my case for reconciliation, he would not even consider the idea of a private audience. I must sit for hours as he drones about the dangers of heretics before I have a chance to speak to him."
"He still will not grant me a private audience," nodded Gordon, commiserating,"The time was that the Balleol had a weekly private meeting at a time that suited HIM, now I must either make a public submission or book in advance to sit in those same boring committee meetings. The Pope is not a believer in privacy."
"Ha, very good!" laughed Istvan,"The Pope is not a believer!"
Gordon stared at him for a moment, confused, then realized what he had said and laughed himself,"Oh yes, that was quite good!"
Hours later, a misty light dawned over Rome, though any closer observers would have seen a very sorry sight.
Following a dinner that had featured more drinking than eating, Istvan Eszes had staggered out of Gordon's Diplomatic Residence to find his bodyguards waiting to escort him through the streets to his home. He'd stumbled on as the blank-faced guards marched steadily beside him, until the sound of a lute and sweet singing had attracted his attention. A street performer - a bard - had been singing a song he had not heard in years, a Hungarian tale of bravery and valor, and he'd stood with tears welling in his eyes as the man sang away. When he finished, Istvan had flung him several florins and applauded, and the bard had bowed and smiled, then told him if he wanted to hear more, there was a tavern he knew where Hungarians tales were still told and songs still sung, despite the recent war with the Papacy. Still feeling on a high from his recent diplomatic success in negotiating a ceasefire with the Pope's top diplomats, as well as heavily drunk from the wine he had shared with Gordon, Istvan had overridden his guard's objections and agreed to see the tavern... after all, the night was young!
Now, as dawn lifted the sun into the sky, Istvan came to lying face down in the streets of Rome, his guards mysteriously missing and a dog was licking happily at his ear. With a groan he slapped it away and rolled onto his side, moaning miserably. He sat up on the cobbled road and looked around, confused as to where he was and how he had gotten there, and why his head felt like it was splitting in two.
"ECCE HOMO!" cried a voice, and he winced, feeling a spike of pain through his head. Fighting through his fuzzy thoughts, he struggled for his Latin as he heard the voice continuing to make demands of him.
"Pax, pax," he muttered, waving his arm limply behind him, hoping to shut the man up. Staggering to his feet, he looked behind him and cocked his head in confusion as he saw the man making demands of him was in fact a City Guard at the head of a patrol of them. The man seemed quite agitated, and he couldn't understand why, until he turned his head back and looked up at the wall stretched up high above him.... and what was written there.
"No.... no," gasped Istvan, then turned wild-eyed towards the guard who he now recognized was accusing him of this blasphemy,"Ita erat quando hic adveni!"
The Watch Commander glared at him, then turned as one of his men approached from where he had been inspecting the wall, carrying the empty wine bottle he had found beside the bucket of paint and brush that had been used to mark the wall.
"Corpus delicti," the Guard said, and the Watch Commander raised his furious eyes upward to Istvan, his nose easily picking up the stench of wine on Istvan's clothes and skin .
"Sunt pueri pueri, pueri puerilia tractant," tried Istvan, shrugging and attempting a lame smile.
"Adversus solem ne loquitor!" snapped the Commander,"Caro putridas es!"
"Quis est haec vervex?" asked the Guard who had handed the Watch Commander the wine bottle and bucket. The Commander scowled at Istvan, waiting for an answer.
"Ni... nihil declaro," stammered Istvan, feeling the sweat breaking out on his stinking body. He felt nauseous, not just from his hangover now but the growing realization of what this meant, not just for him, but Hungary as well.
"Non compos mentis!" he moaned, attempting what he hoped looked like the smile of a lunatic,"Mea culpa? Non compos mentis!"
"BAH!" snapped the guard, but his Watch Commander snapped a finger and quieted him.
"Absentem laedit cum ebrio qui litigat," he hissed contemptuously, then leaned forward and let a cruel smile cross his face,"Istvan Esves."
Istvan groaned, the bastard KNEW him!
"Confiteor," moaned the Diplomat, wondering how long till word of the insult he had evidently written in a drunken stupor would reach the Pope.... and how long until that ill tempered man took out his anger on Hungary. As he was dragged away, he began to sob in dismay.
He - and by extension Hungary - were "raptus regaliter".
Two old men sat at a campfire together in the dark, enjoying the heat in the fading cold of the Danish Winter. They were roughly halfway between Thorn and Vilnius, and the slightly younger of the two men had been listening now for hours in rapt fascination to the tale the older man was telling him.
Godfred was 59 years old, a former Priest who had been stationed for decades in the wilderness converting the Vikings from their pagan ways. The extermination of the fierce warriors by order of King Bjorn had outraged him, and he had disappeared into the land, only to emerge years later as a wild-eyed fanatic, speaking out openly against the Church and the Danish King. The irony had not been lost on him, once he had been dedicated to purging heresy, now he was a "heretic" himself.
But his own story paled next to that of the man speaking to him, a large man with big hands and gray hair whom age had not broken down like so many before him. Sometimes when Godfred looked at his reflection in a pool of water he saw a frightening burning vitality that seemed to be stripping the fat from his flesh... when he looked at this man, he saw the solid denial of time.
And he heard a tale of horrors.
"Fearghus Maknab took me under his wing, taught me more in a day than I'd learned in a year," the man spoke easily, conversationally,"Watching him move, he did nae seem to be of this world. He went where he wanted, did what he wanted, and left. He could be as messy or as clean as the situation demanded, but more than that, he was fun."
"Fun?" asked Godfred.
"Oh aye, he had a wonderful sense of humor. When the mission called for it, he'd joke with his targets too, though most often they didn't appreciate it. The thing about him was that he didn't look fun, maybe that's why his jokes always struck me so, he was like a spider, all long legs and arms, constantly folding himself up into nooks and crannies. His fingers were like thin, crooked sticks but I dinnae think I ever saw such nimble, wonderful work.... maybe Campbell, he could do tricks when he had to, but the mood rarely took him."
"Campbell?" asked Godfred.
"Someone else," muttered the man dismissively,"He was nae fun, just scary. I was scared when Maknab did nae come back, as well, and I did nae ever discover what happened to him.... I can only assume that someone somehow got the better of him on a mission, he did nae tell me what they were if I was nae going along with him. Maybe he stepped on some loose masonry, maybe a guard somewhere got lucky and stuck him with a blade? I dinnae ken, it does nae matter, I finished my training and went out into the world... and do ye ken what I found? I found that my training was useless, it was what Maknab taught me that made the difference, that made me the best at what I do. All those missions I told ye about earlier? Most of them would have been impossible without his tutelage, and so I realized what I had to do, I had to find someone worthwhile and train him myself, because the world needs people like me, who can do the things I do, and the training they give us will nae create men who can do it."
The man sat back on the thick log he was using as a seat and stretched comfortably, his tale obviously done.
"Tell me," Godfred asked,"You came to me at Sunset, disguised as Pontius, the monk I have been traveling with off and on for years, and you told me you had a tale to tell, and I heard it. Now I ask, to what purpose? You know me for a Holy Man, yet you tell me with glee of how your Master killed an Inquisitor, a man who - for all the faults of the Church - was like unto a Saint. Is this your confession? Do you seek absolution?"
"Oh nae, nae," chuckled the man,"This was nae a confession, it was a distraction."
"A distr-?" started Godfred, and then a blade sliced quickly across his open throat, spilling blood that sizzled across the open fire. His arm jerked once, and then the heretic slumped backwards over the back of the log.
His killer stepped into the firelight, revealing a young boy with dark eyes who stared expectantly at the man watching him with a smile.
"Good lad," smiled Farquar Makfulchiane, standing up and patting the boy on his head,"There's a good lad."
"Well congratulations, Gordon," chuckled Francisco Paulo, Venetian Diplomat,"I expect you to pick up the tab at our next drinking session."
"HA!" laughed Gordon, standing on his balcony looking over the city,"With your new ally, I expect YOU to have the water turned into wine!"
They stepped off of the balcony and moved into the spacious dining room, opened up during the day to allow the air through, taking advantage of the natural light to expose the lush interiors, particularly the library shelf containing a series of hardbound books on a series of different subjects, mostly religious. Gordon had never actually read any of them, they were their for appearance only, and their daily exposure to the sunlight meant they quickly faded, so Gordon was forced to pay for replacements often. The price was well worth it, in his opinion, visitors to his Diplomatic Residence would see Scotland (and by extension himself) was wealthy, and that he himself was well read.
"In all seriousness, Francisco," Gordon lied,"I'm glad to hear of this alliance, Venice's lost territories have weighed heavily on my mind, for purely selfish reasons of course, our friendship is important to me."
"And to me as well," Francisco lied back,"I feel the Pope has realized the value of holding the remaining Catholic Nations close to him, especially after that.... unpleasantness... with Istvan Esves."
"Ugh," grunted Gordon,"Don't remind me, I had an Inquisitor crawling over my home afterwards, asking me all kinds of questions. It was rumored I was the last person he dined with before writing that blasphemy on the walls, luckily his guards were found sleeping off a drunk in a tavern and were able to fill in his movements afterwards... the old drunk got smashed while singing songs about Hungary and disappeared after declaring he was going to impress Hungary upon Rome forever."
"Speaking of drunks," chuckled Francisco,"I heard that your King Domnall has been having some issues with his Generals in Vilnius... The Mauler doesn't get on with Hew Mar?"
"HA! Quite the contrary!" laughed Gordon, always keen to share gossip,"They get on too well! The tale goes they got involved in a brawl over some unimportant matter, quite a violent one in fact, and beat each other to within a hairsbreadth of death. Realizing that neither had the advantage, they came to a truce, The Mauler going so far as to call Mar a brother in blood."
"Oh," muttered Francisco, sounding disappointed,"I had heard they remained at each other's throats."
"Oh they did," laughed Gordon,"That's the best part! The Mauler decided to celebrate their new kinship in the best way he knows how, drinking himself into a near-coma. He insisted that he would buy the drinks, but Mar kept insisting that his Father taught him that he must always get in his round, and they ended up half-tearing down the local tavern in another fist fight over it."
"And King Domnall? How does he react to this madness?" asked Francisco, fascinated.
"Apparently he finds it quite amusing, and as long as they don't do any permanent damage to each other that will effect his planned Spring Campaign, is content to let them," chuckled Gordon,"And so it goes in Vilnius, The Mauler and Mar get on famously well, and then some issue comes up over which neither will back down, and they end up smashing furniture and each other until they reach an inevitable impasse and make peace and go out drinking... which generally prompts another fight."
"You Scotsmen are fascinating people," grinned Francisco, and finished his wine before looking to the small mechanical clock on Gordon's mantel - another ostentatious display of his wealth, it was a miniature version of the great Clock Tower recently constructed in Milan - and frowned,"I must go, my friend, the duties of my office call."
Gordon saw his "friend" out, thinking smugly to himself that the fool had told him much without meaning to. He now knew that Venice had a spy based in or around Vilnius that knew about the goings-on of the court there, but not in any real detail. Francisco, meanwhile, was thinking smugly to himself that Gordon had, as usually, given away far more than he thought. Venice had no spy near Vilnius, but rumors and tales of the fighting between The Mauler and Hew Mar had reached him in Rome, and he'd used it to get the naturally gossipy Gordon to talk, and now he knew that King Domnall was set on going ahead with a planned continuation of hostilities with Denmark come the Spring. He headed down the street flanked by his bodyguards with a spring in his step, eager to be back to his Residence where a scientist named Walter Merle was waiting to show off a new system that Francisco believed would make Venice richer than Scotland could ever dream. And the best thing was, he was going to poach the man out from under Gordon himself, who had scheduled an appointment with the man on the morrow.
Gordon returned inside and frowned when he saw a servant standing at the door outside of his private Office, something that was only supposed to happen when he had petitioners or other Diplomats in attendance.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, struggling to remember the man's name. Then it came to him, it was the same as the King's brother,"Aodh."
"Ye noon petitioner is waiting, Master," replied the servant, whose name was Eoin - not Aodh - calmly,"I am standing in position to assure ye privacy."
"I have nae noon petitioner!" growled Gordon angrily,"I have nae petitioners at all today!"
"Oh my," spoke Eoin in surprise,"The man was unsure if he had the right day, he seemed slightly absentminded, I think he is a scientist... I just assumed ye had called for him.... his name is Walter Merle."
"Merle? That mad English bastard!?!" snapped Gordon irritably,"You oaf, Aodh! He was supposed to meet with me tomorrow..... dammit, if he's here now I might as well see him."
Winter passed, and as Spring turned the fields of Danish land green again, the city of Kiev on the western border of Danish lands awoke from a long cold slumber to find an army at their Gate.
Lars of Kleppr hauled on his armor and barked commands as his men - most still fat or out of shape from the long, cold Winter - scrambled to stand in defense of the city.
"Sir, it is the Scottish!" cried one soldier.
"Then it'll be a good fight," grunted Lars.
"Sir, they have many mercenaries, including some of those accursed Mongols!" cried the soldier.
"Then it'll be a dirty fight," grunted Lars.
"Sir, they have more than twice our men!" gasped the soldier, despair in his eyes.
"Then it'll be a LONG fight!" snapped Lars,"Now stop gaping like a fish and get into formation! We've got a city to hold!"
Roy Macgoulchane sat his horse in the fields, looking up at the dark and cloudy sky and feeling the trapped heat of the Spring day roasting him in his armor. The word had come to him from Angus in the midst of Winter, a short and terse letter informing him that The King wanted him to recruit as many mercenaries as he could and including a list of names he should try to find. The mercenaries had wintered at Novgorod with them, and by the time they rode out together, most had become accepted by the Scottish soldiers. The Mongols in particular had been well accepted, which would have once surprised Roy, until fate had brought him to Yerevan and he'd discovered a multi-cultural diverse group of people who all called themselves Scotsmen.
"I'm not a man for grand speeches, lads!" Roy shouted,"But most of ye ken what kind of man I am, most of ye have fought at my side before and ken I prefer action to words! So all I'll say to ye is that our King wants that city, and who are we nae to give the King what he wants!?! It seems fair enough to me, one city in exchange for the Empire he has won for us and the safety and prosperity he has created for our family and our children!"
Most of the men cheered, and Roy grinned, he wasn't sure if it was Angus rubbing off on him or just a natural change of mindset that came from leading men in battle, but he'd be damned if he wasn't enjoying this.
"Ye mercenaries, if ye'd claim a piece of Scotland for yeselves, and maybe find yeselves a home and an Empire to protect ye families in, then Kiev before us is ye chance to take one!" he cried,"I want ye through that gate the moment it is opened, so charge now, and trust in the men manning those bombards, they'll clear ye a path!"
The men roared and charged, demonstrating remarkable faith in his words. The Bombards began loading to fire at the Gate, a direct line that would come dangerously close to hitting their countrymen if their timing was even slightly of. But these were Scotsmen, they knew no fear, and close to a century of fighting alongside a nobility that fought on the frontlines with them had earned the trust.
And today, Roy Macgoulchane meant to prove it was well-founded.
"GOOD WORK, LADS!" cried Roy as the gates were smashed wide open and Scotsmen began flooding through. He turned to the Mongols who had been waiting patiently behind their cart of rockets,"NOW TAKE DOWN THAT WALL! I DINNAE WANT THEIR ARCHERS TO BE ABLE TO FIRE ON OUR MEN, AND I WANT ANOTHER ENTRANCE TO OUR CITY!"
Danish Sword-Staff Militia slammed against the wide open gates, slamming them closed before being overwhelmed by the mercenaries and Scottish Pikemen who had all ready entered the city. The two groups clashed violently, long spears, sword-tipped staffs and pikes snapping and smacking against each other and then through the men holding them. Behind the Scots, a wide hole could be seen through the gate - it would not hold against even the slightest push, and the Danes knew that the only way for them to hold it shut was with their bodies, both living and dead.
Within the City Square, Lars of Kleppr rode his horse into formation and demanded to know the situation at the Gate.
"Sir, they're pushing through by sheer weight of numbers - the gate is broken and the walls crumbling," came the report,"Our men will be overwhelmed soon."
"Then let us ride to their aid," grinned Lars, spurring his horse,"These Scots haven't seen everything yet."
His confidence seemed misplaced given his position, but he had reason to be sure of himself. Maybe the Danish no longer had their fierce Viking Warriors, but they did have the closest Catholic equivalent in this day and age.
The Norse War Clerics.
"THIS IS THE FATE OF THOSE WHO WOULD CHALLENGE THE DANES!" roared Lars, riding to the front line and striking about him with his sword as War Clerics screamed out to God before exploding the faces of their enemies with their one handed maces,"DID YOU TRULY THINK I WOULD LET YOU TAKE KIEV FROM ME!?! THIS CITY IS MINE!"
"HAVEN'T YE HEARD, LAD!?!" cried a voice near him, and Lars gasped as he felt a white hot blast of pain shoot through his side. His horse moved on underneath him and he crashed to the ground, feeling part of himself tearing free from the rest and actually feeling the pulsing of the blood escaping him, even as his men cried out in dismay. The mercenary who had brought him down appeared over him, raising his spear up high as he finished speaking,"Everything belongs to Scotland!"
"The walls are secure, my Lord," reported a scout to Macgoulchane,"Reports are coming through that the Danish General has been slain, and their Religious Cavalry are retreating back into the city."
"Religious Cavalry? Nevermind," grunted Macgoulchane,"Time to join the men on the frontline and end this."
The men cheered as Macgoulchane rode up alongside them and into the fray, helping to put down the valiant but hopelessly outnumbered War Clerics. The Norse threw themselves into the Scottish, hoping to kill as many as they could, but were cut down as wave after wave rode in, until there were no more, and Roy stared across a sea of corpses into the heart of the square, where the last of the Danish soldiers waited.
"Oh aye lads, do ye think we can take him!?!" cried Roy mockingly, and his men laughed and cheered, while the Dane stared in horror, knowing what was coming but unable to command his frozen body into action. He simply squatted and stared, as a seemingly never-ended wave of Scotsmen rode down on him.
Another Danish City had fallen to Scotland.
"For now, ye should put ye orders to the field through Cormac Feniss," rasped Nevin of Shetland,"He is a good and capable man, just nae one who could be anything more than a caretaker until my replacement arrives in Genoa."
"And who can replace ye, Nevin?" asked Aodh Canmore, sitting beside the bed that the Spy lay in, his body wasted away and his strength taken from him, though his mind remained as keen as ever.
"I have had plans in place by necessity," Nevin grunted,"My replacement will introduce himself to ye soon enough... if he does nae... then he will nae be the right person to take my place, and ye will have to find a man amongst our other operatives ye feel is best."
"That is nae what I meant, Nevin," smiled Aodh sadly,"I mean who will replace ye? I am nae just losing my top Spy, I am losing my greatest friend."
Nevin smiled, then coughed roughly and had to lay back in the bed to regather his strength, and they sat in a pained silence for some time, until finally it was broken by Aodh.
"Nevin, I have nae asked ye this before outright, but I cannae hold my tongue any longer.... are ye a believer?"
"Do I believe in God?" grunted Nevin,"Sometimes, aye... sometimes I do.... but sometimes I dinnae, and sometimes I just dinnae ken. I learned all my life to seek the hidden truth, but Faith has nae easy answers, even if ye ken all the secret hidden truths behind the Bible and the construction of the Church itself."
"I ask because ye did nae allow the Priest to read ye the Last Rites," Aodh said, obviously uneasy with a situation so close to the way his Father had died,"Ye have served Scotland all ye life, and ye have been a good friend to me, I would nae see ye soul put in jeopardy."
"Ahhh Aodh, my friend," smiled Nevin,"The things I have done, it does nae matter the reasons why, my soul has long since been past jeopardy. Nae confession, nae absolution, nae Last Rites can possibly save me from my fate... I deserve as much for what I did to Aylin, Deniz and Ceren... their deaths have haunted me in my old age more than anything I ever did before or since, even Zaragoza. I did nae ever learn the trick ye have, Aodh, to separate the necessity of my work from my humanity.... ye are a better man than me.... when ye die, if there is a God.... well, we will nae see each other again."
Aodh stood and turned around, and Nevin groaned. He hadn't wanted to hurt his friend like that, but he could no more lie to Aodh than the man would lie to him. Not now when death seemed to be hovering above him, just waiting. Aodh stepped away from the bed to the heavy oaken door and opened it, and for one panicky moment Nevin though that the Prince meant to leave him to die alone. But then he heard Aodh's voice calling, and moments later the door was shutting again, and he found himself staring at two small boys standing before the Scottish Prince.
"Aodh, wha-?" he started, but Aodh silenced him with a look, and knelt down behind the two nervous looking boys, placing hands on their shoulders.
"Lads, this man is a good friend of mine, and he is very sick, do ye ken him?" he asked.
"Yes Uncle," spoke the slighter taller blond boy, staring with wide eyes,"That is Master Nevin, Father says he Scotland's best friend."
"That he is, lads," smiled Aodh,"Go to him, don't be scared, let him see ye."
Nervously the two boys approached the wide eyed Nevin, who reached out with one too-thin arm and gently stroked the cheek of the first boy.
"Edward," he grunted, then stroked the cheek of the second, slightly smaller boy,"Algune.... ye're good lads, are ye nae?"
"Aye, sir," replied both boys together, and Nevin's smile widened.
"Aye, good boys, fine boys," smiled Nevin, and withdrew his arm, laying back on his bed as Aodh ushered the confused young boys out of the room, offering them smiling reassurances. He returned to the side of Nevin's bed moments later, and smiled at his friend.
"My nephews, thought they do nae ken it," smiled Nevin,"Healthy and young, they make an old man smile."
"They would nae exist if it was nae for ye, Nevin," smiled Aodh, seating himself again,"They are good lads, fine lands, and ye've given them a life above anything that their Father could have given them in far off Shetland. Their blood is ye blood, Nevin, and it's also my blood too, when we are both dust, we will both live on in them and their children. They will be the leading men of Scotland, and perhaps one day, it is nae inconceivable that one of their children could raise as high as the Throne itself.... because of ye, Nevin of Shetland, because of ye!"
Nevin smiled happily, tears welling in his eyes, and Aodh took his friend's hand for the very last time.
"I will see ye again, Nevin of Shetland," he insisted, and Nevin nodded weakly,"I WILL see ye again!"
Gordon of Edinburgh smiled coyly at the Portuguese Noblewoman, and she fluttered her eyelashes back even as she pretended to be shocked at his presumptuousness. That he had invited her to dinner alone was scandalous enough, that she had accepted more so, and he had a feeling that if he played his cards right, he wouldn't be sleeping alone in his bed tonight... or sleeping, for that matter.
"Enes Alvaro, such a lovely name," smiled Gordon in what he hoped was a seductive tone,"Your ruby red lips match the wine, I wonder if they match the taste?"
"Oh Gordon, your are SO scandalous!" she giggled, wondering how much money she could milk from him before he got frustrated with being strung along with promises of what was between her thighs,"Whatever is a lady to-"
She was cut off as a messenger entered with a knock, causing Gordon to snap angrily at him for the interruption.
"Forgiveness, Master," bowed the messenger,"The message arrived with explicit instructions to be taken directly to ye, and was marked with the seal of the Scottish Royal Family."
"Give it to me then, you idiot!" he snapped, then rolled his eyes at Enes who was startled out of staring wistfully at the handsome looking servant waiting near the fire to meet their needs.
Gordon broke the seal and opened the sealed envelope, and frowned as he read the contents of the single piece of paper folded inside and written on in an unfamiliar hand.
Gordon of Edinburgh,
Scotland has lost its greatest friend and servant
"Scotland has lost its greatest friend and servant? N? Who the hell is N?" he demanded, then shook his head,"This is either a mistake of a poor joke, enough of it! Cathad, bring us more wine!"
He tossed the envelope aside, all ready forgotten, while the servant - whose name was Eoin, not Cathad - moved forward with a bottle of wine prepared.... and then tripped on the rug that had caught his foot so many times before. The bottle flew out of his hands and smashed into the wall opposite, staining the wall purple as Eoin crashed into the table and knocked it over.
"YOU OAF!" screamed Gordon in a fury, leaping back from his seat as Enes squawked in surprise,"LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE!"
"Forgive me, forgive me!" cried Eoin in a panic, scrambling about picking up shattered pieces of plate and cup,"Forgive me, Master George!"
"George? GEORGE!?!" screamed Gordon, livid with rage. How dare this worm forget HIS name! As Eoin crawled about he presented an inviting target, and Gordon swung his foot back and booted the hapless servant directly in his arse, sending him sprawling forward and crushing everything not all ready broken,"I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR USELESSNESS, I DON'T CARE WHO YOUR FATHER IS, YOU'RE GONE! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!"
"Please, nae Master!" wept Eoin in terror, on his knees and staring up in horror at the livid Diplomat,"I dinnae have anywhere to go! I have nae money!"
"Do you think I care!?!" roared Gordon,"Go now while I'm still leaving you alive!"
Weeping and moaning, Eoin staggered up and fled the room, and Gordon visibly calmed himself, breathing in and out for a few moments before turning back to Enes, who was staring at him wide-eyed, wondering if maybe this was the wrong person to try and con.
"Where will ye go, lad?" asked Marion, the plump, ageless gray-haired cook who had unofficially adopted all the younger servants. She was wiping tears from her eyes as Eoin collected his pitiful belongings, and the other servants who had been free of duty were standing with her in the kitchen, all visibly upset. Eoin had been a popular addition to the staff, and they were all horrified to hear he was leaving.
"I'm young and nae in bad shape," smiled Eoin sadly,"It's too late to join the military, but maybe I can find work as a mercenary or bodyguard? My Father will have nae to do with me, I'm a bastard.... but bastards who live have a tendency to be survivors.... I'll be all right."
Marion hugged him close and sobbed her goodbye, and he shook the hands and hugged the rest of the waiting servants, tears in his own eyes by the time he'd said his goodbye to all of them. He turned in the doorway as he prepared to leave and took one last look at all of them.
"I will nae forget any of ye," he promised,"Ye are all good people."
And then he walked out of their lives.
Eoin moved through the darkened streets of Rome, mostly safe at night due to the heavy patrols of City Watch, though any resident knew which streets to avoid and which were safe. He limped slightly from the kick he'd been given, and despite his height he was slouched over against the cold, holding his cheap looking rob close around him, hood pulled up over his head against the cold of the night.
He passed through a dark alley, but the man who emerged from the other side was tall, walking confidently with long strides and wearing a finely made robe. His face was confident and handsome, a grin dancing around the corners of his mouth. He moved easily through the streets, and whenever he came near one of those streets that residents knew to avoid, his gait changed again to a easy moving, graceful stride that warned any who watched that he was not some easy mark.
Unmolested, the man arrived soon at a stables where some of the finest horses of Rome were kept and maintained for various Diplomats, Merchants and Noblemen. He stomped impatiently inside the attached office building where a sleepy night staff were paid to be ready in the frequent cases when a horse was needed by their clientele no matter what time of night or time of year.
"Francisco Paulo's horse, quickly!" he snapped, slapping papers onto the desk of the startled Night Manager,"I am in a rush!"
The Night Manager peered at the papers, seeing the official Venetian Seal as well as official documentation that the bearer was granted full rights to any properties of the Venetian Diplomatic Embassy.
"Of course, my Lord!" he gasped, snapping for a stable-hand to prepare and bring the finely bred horse to the front of the stables. The man stood outside waiting, tapping his foot impatiently until the horse arrived, then pulled himself up onto the stables and tossed a florin without looking at the stablehand before walking the horse of.
"Gee, 'thanks'," grunted the Stablehand, stooping to pick up the florin, marked with the Venetian King's face,"Bastard, probably never worked a day in his life."
The man rode on horse through the darkness to the City Gates, where two guards stood on either side, peering irritably at the man who was forcing them to break up their conversation.
"Open the gates," he ordered imperiously, and handed down papers to the first of the guards, who peered in surprise at the seal and the orders within commanding all who read to follow the orders of the bearer. Quickly he called up to the tower above where others in the Night Watch were settled around a fire and gambling amongst themselves to open the gates, and with a groan the gates of Rome were opened. Snatching back his papers, the man rode his horse through, and the gates closed behind him, shutting him out of Rome and leaving him alone in the dark.
"Who was that?" asked the other guard,"Whose seal was that?"
"Believe me," grunted the guard,"You don't want to know."
And as the two men went back to their earlier conversation; as Gordon of Edinburgh failed miserably in his attempts to bed Enes Alvaro; as Farquar the Killer happily showed his young protégé how to dump a body in water without it rising; as Angus The Mauler and Hew Mar slumped over their drinks, passed out from a fiercely competitive drinking contest; as Domnall Canmore lay in bed thinking of the Danes still living while his Father was dead and buried in far off Cairo; as Aodh Canmore stood by the funeral pyre for his best friend; as all this happened, Eoin Makartane rode out of Rome and towards Genoa.
Towards his destiny.