Part 59: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 58Eoin Makartane walked smoothly down the corridors of the Royal Palace of Genoa, flanked by two guards who had fallen all over themselves to offer their escort after he'd presented them with papers identifying himself as a high ranking Papal Official. He'd demanded to see Aodh Canmore immediately and the guards - well knowing Aodh's devotion to the Church - had sent ahead a runner to tell the Prince to be prepared to meet the Papal visitor.
"I will enter alone," snapped Eoin,"This business is between Prince Canmore and the Church."
The guards bowed, opening the door and allowing Eoin to enter as they closed the door behind him... and locked it.
"Did that idiot really think he could waltz into the Royal Palace and straight to Aodh Canmore?" laughed one of the guards.
"That's the first time I've had a prisoner walk himself into his cell," chuckled the other.
The two men laughed, then snapped to attention as Aodh appeared at the end of the corridor and approached followed by several guards, nodding as the two men waiting at the door to his "office" saluted.
"Open it," he ordered, his face blank,"Let's see what this man is made of."
The guards opened the door, weapons drawn to protect their Prince in case the spy they'd captured tried a suicidal charge. The door swung open, and the men peered inside in surprise. The room - which had only one door and narrow window spaces sealed with iron bars - was empty.
"How is this possible?" gasped one guard, but Aodh simply turned on his heel and began moving back up the corridor, his bodyguard rushing to join him. The two moved through corridors and up stairs until they reached Aodh's actual office, which was guarded by two trusted men. Aodh nodded briefly as they saluted and entered his office, ignoring his bodyguard's protest to go first.
His office was empty and apparently untouched from when he had left it, but as his bodyguard moved to check tapestries and windows, Aodh moved straight to his large desk and used his key to open the hidden drawer contained inside.
"Well," smiled Aodh, looking at the now empty drawer that had contained his personal correspondence with Domnall regarding Prince Sten the Scarred,"It seems he is made of stern stuff indeed."
Outside of the palace, Eoin moved confidently through the crowded streets, ignoring the cries of vendors and hawkers as he slid into the marketplace and lost himself amongst the crowds. Contained within a hidden pocket in his cloak were the documents he had appropriated from Aodh's desk, and with it he had what he needed to answer the insult that had just been visited upon him.
In Oslo, Prince Sten the Scarred sat across the large dining table from his closest friend and confidant, Niels Ebbesen.
"Is it possible, do you think?" Sten asked,"That the answer to our prayers should fall into our laps like this?"
"Stranger things have happened, pride goes before a fall, after all," noted Niels,"History tells us that without his brother's calming influence on him, Aodh Canmore becomes arrogant and authoritative to his own detriment. It seems he finally angered the wrong person, and now we have something nobody has had over Scotland for a century... inside information."
Sten nodded, thinking further on the message that had come from him. An angry Scottish spy had turned on his masters and given Sten information on the garrison strengths of the cities on Scotland's Northern borders. With King Domnall taking Hew Mar with him on his Danish Campaign, the Northern Cities had been stripped down to the barest essentials, and in some cases even less. Given the size of Scotland's Empire and the number of cities in their domain, it would be impossible to reinforce one strategic city without putting another at risk. This afforded Sten an opportunity to seize the advantage back from Scotland, his personal army was the best trained and toughest left in Denmark, but it had been sitting up in the wintry climate of Oslo, unable to come to the aid of Sten's brother Bjorn as his armies were destroyed one after the other by King Domnall. Now, knowing what he knew, he could send his armies down past Arhus to Hamburg and take the Scottish City by force. From there, they could press out either East towards Magdeburg and retake the formerly Danish City or - more likely - West to Antwerp and Bruges, splitting Scottish lands between their United Kingdom and their lands in what had once been France and Milan.
"Finally we can go back on the front foot," smiled Sten,"I have hated sitting here on the defensive, waiting for the inevitable."
"Had you been King we would never have found ourselves in this position," Niels grunted.
"I'll not hear words against my brother," Sten warned.
"I've never put stock in respecting the station above the man," replied Niels calmly,"They don't call me the Tyrant Slayer because I meekly accept my lot in life."
"Bah," laughed Sten,"Let's not be bothered rehashing old arguments, let's start the planning for bringing down the Scottish Empire!"
It was two weeks later that Sten awoke confused by the sound of horns blowing and the sounds of panicked motion. A week earlier he had seen off his men, emptying the city of its garrison in order to march south to Hamburg, ignoring any protest that the Holy Roman Empire might give, to begin stage one of the counter-offensive against Scotland. That had been a night of revelry and celebration, the Danes under his command had seen victory after victory under his command, and though he was not personally leading them, they were confident that such victories would continue, especially considering how slight the resistance against them would be. Sten had provided the army commanders with meticulous detail of ways in and out of Hamburg, weaknesses that could be exploited, the strengths of the garrisons and exploitable traits of their commanders. His knowledge had, in fact, been almost frightening in its detail, and many soldiers spoke in awe of Sten's well known Soothsayer, who had saved his life multiple times in the past. Sten - whose information had come from a disgruntled spy high in the hierarchy of Scotland's unparalleled Spy Network - allowed such rumors to spread, despite his own disdain for signs and portents. He knew that the men would fight all the harder if they not only respected their Master, but feared him and his "supernatural" powers as well.
But now he rolled out of bed wondering what the noise was all about, and moved out of his bedchamber into the corridor where he bumped into Niels, who had obviously been rushing to get him.
"What's going on, Niels?" he demanded.
"We've been played for fools, Sten!" gasped Niels,"The Scottish have sailed an army here!"
"How many!?!" cried Sten in horror,"How many, man!?!"
"1300..." whispered Niels,"1300 against out 60."
Sten gripped the wall as he felt the world threaten to turn black. He had allowed his desire to take the offensive blind him to news too good to be true, and now he was paying the price. Niels had been wrong, Bjorn was far better suited to be King of Denmark than him.
He had just caused the fall of Oslo.
Niels rode out of the fray biting his teeth in fury and squeezing his eyes shut to try and keep the tears from flowing. He had just seen his best friend cut down in front of him by baying, wild red haired savages, hundreds of them pouring through the city gates and over the Danes. Only a few of Sten's cavalry managed to ride out after Niels, and the Scottish were not far behind.
Of the less than 60 who had been left to defend Oslo, only seven made it back through to the inner courtyard, and Niels howled in frustration as he tried desperately to lower the portcullis and found the mechanism had been jammed somehow. The Scottish had come through the outer gate unhindered, but Sten and Niels had been too busy trying to survive to think to heavily about the implications. Now they were clear, somehow a Scottish spy had entered the city and opened the gates for the army.... and Niels knew who, the same bastard who had fooled them with false information. He had a brief moment to wonder what the fate of Sten's army now marching south past Arhus would be, as well as Thorgils and his small garrison at Stockholm to the East, and then the Scottish were charging through the inner gate towards him and his fellow survivors.
"So this is how the Tyrant Slayer dies," Niels muttered to himself,"Not against great Lords and Kings but mere men.... so be it. Let them come for me, they will find I do not die easy, and many more of their kin will precede me into hell."
The Scottish smashed into the side of the surviving Danes, and Niels began casting out with his blade, meaning to suit actions to words. Several Scotsmen died under his blade and the hooves of his horse, but not enough.
Not nearly enough.
Thorgils Hviid was not a loved man, nor was he a loving man. But he was loyal beyond fault, and Stockholm was a city of order and discipline thanks to the harsh judgments and cruel lack of compassion he brought to his role as Governor. Whether noble or common, when a man was governed by Thorgils, they were judged based only on the facts and the letter of the law.
So it was that the death of Sten had seen Thorgils named Prince of Denmark, now first in line to the throne should King Bjorn died. It should have been seen as recognition of his lifetime of tireless work to bring justice and order to the Kingdom, as well as a reward to his loyalty.
Instead it was a death sentence.
727 Scotsmen had appeared as if from nowhere outside the walls of Stockholm, catching Thorgils completely by surprise. When word had reached him of Sten's death, he had been preparing for the Scottish army to march from the West at Oslo. Instead, another army of Scotsmen had sailed up to the coast and marched quickly from the South to lay siege to the city, and Thorgils' messages to Sten's former army to return to Stockholm had gone unanswered, making him fear the worst for the army. Had they deserted or disbanded after hearing of their Prince's death? Or were they still marching blindly forward against Hamburg, which was almost certainly far better defended than they'd been led to believe? Thorgils did not know, all he knew was that over 700 men were preparing to charge the city walls, and he had only 80 to defend it.
As rain began to pour down harder, Captain Aidan gave the order and the Bombards fired, blasting through the city gates. Aidan grinned and lifted his sword high to give the order for his men to march to the walls, and then through the gates. But as his sword lifted, he heard a cry coming from the Highland Nobles that had been rankling under his command ever since they'd marched out of Frankfurt.
"LET'S GET THEM LADS!" screamed the Highland Commander, and suddenly they were charging forward.
"Shit!" snapped Aidan,"After them lads, try and keep up!"
The Scottish began charging through the now muddy ground of the field, but the Pikemen and Spearmen were bogged down by their armor and padding as well as the wet and mud. Meanwhile, the Highland Nobles were dressed lightly in their kilts and helms, and quickly charged ahead of the rest, pouring through the gates before Aidan and his men had reached even the halfway point.
"Dammit ye idiots, dinnae get yeself killed and cost us this victory!" cursed Aidan, and then went back to concentrating on trying to keep his feet being sucked in by the mud.
Sitting inside the Courtyard outside the magnificent Stockholm Cathedral, Thorgils looked up at the holy building and said a silent prayer for aid from God. Moments later, the message came through to him that a small force of unarmored Scots had separated from the rest of the invaders and was coming close to the court now.
"That was quick," Thorgils smiled, looking into the sky and smiling at the gift God had given him,"Ride quickly men, and let's have the heads of these bastards to throw over the walls when their companions arrive!"
Aidan led his men through the gates and cursed angrily as the sounds and screaming of fighting reached him from the interior of the city. The fools had already engaged Thorgils, barely 100 unarmored idiots whose huge swords they seemed to mistake for penises, making them feel invincible. They would be getting slaughtered, and that would severely impact the morale of his men when Aidan led them to Thorgils' triumphant men.
"Stupid, thoughtless bastards!" cursed Aidan, and turned the corner to the narrow street leading to the City Square, where the words died in his mouth as he saw the impossible.
"They've... they've killed them all," gasped Aidan, as he watched the screaming, laughing Highlanders scramble over the dead bodies of the Danish Cavalry and charge after the fleeing catapult operators who Thorgils had been hoping could rain down death on the Scottish while his cavalry tried to hold them back.
Aidan led his men past dead bodies and horses, over the bloodstained cobbles of the courtyard to where the Highland Nobles were finishing off the last of the Catapult Operators. He shook his head in wonder as he watched the Highlanders cheer and laugh, embracing each other or falling to their knees to roar their triumph into the sky.
They had just killed every single soldier within Stockholm.... all by themselves.
Aidan reminded himself to never, ever aggravate a Highlander.
Aodh Canmore sat in his study in the early morning darkness, the small clock on his desk showing the time to be 3 in the morning. He reviewed notes carefully, including reports from Stockholm where Captain Aidan had re-secured the garrison and put in a request for a Governor to come and control of the city itself so he could concentrate on more military matters.
There was no noise or other warning, but without raising his eyes from the paper he was reviewing, Aodh reached up a hand and spoke quietly,"Thank you."
A small package of papers were placed into his hand quietly, the personal correspondence that had been "stolen" from his office. Aodh put them aside and finished reviewing his notes, then looked up at the man who had entered his office silently and was now sitting across the desk from him.
"Well?" asked Eoin Makartane,"Did I perform adequately?"
"More than adequately," nodded Aodh,"Sten was going to be a serious problem for us, ye've solved that problem.... and the way ye overcame the challenges I set ye proved ye worthy to take the place of ye predecessor."
Eoin nodded and sat quietly, waiting for more, but Aodh simply went back to reviewing the papers before him, and finally the Spy stood up and prepared to leave the Prince's Office. Something made him pause and look back, and he found Aodh staring at him. Eoin found himself somewhat startled by the intensity of the gaze coming from the Scottish Prince, feeling like it was drilling into him.
"Eoin, forgive me for being brusque," Aodh said at last,"Ye predecessor was more than just a Spy, he was the best friend I ever had. It will nae be easy having someone else in the position of trust I once held him in."
Eoin nodded, then smiled,"Nae apology necessary, my Prince. Just ken that maybe I will nae be ye friend, but I WILL be Scotland's greatest friend and servant till the day I die."
King Bjorn was still an optimist.
Denmark had lost city after city; the Scottish were preparing their spring offensive on their remaining territories; and now Oslo and Stockholm had fallen and his brother - Denmark's finest General - was dead.
But King Bjorn was still an optimist.
He stood on the roof of his castle at Halych, where on a clear day you could almost see smoke rising from Vilnius, which had for so long been Denmark's Capital and was now under the control of King Domnall of Scotland. Domnall would come for him last, he was sure of it, the only reason Scotland had felt safe in attacking Denmark was due to Bjorn's ex-communication. Domnall would kill and destroy everything under Bjorn's control until he had nothing left, and then he would take the only thing Bjorn had left, his life.
And that was why King Bjorn was still an optimist.
He stood on the roof of his Castle and stared out across the lands that were his and those had once been, and thought about what would happen if he was dead. The Pope would reconcile Denmark, which in turn would force Scotland to pull back from attacking the Danes further. The Scottish were too closely tied to the Papacy to deny the direct orders of the Pope, and while Denmark would not be as large as it once was, it would at least be able to regroup and rebuild with the land that was left to it. But for that to happen, King Bjorn would need to be dead.
"I lived my life in service to you, Denmark," Bjorn whispered, and then without preamble flung himself from the roof of the castle and plummeted towards the ground far below. King Bjorn was an optimist, and as he fell to his death, his final thoughts were self-satisfied ones. He had done what no one else had ever managed to do.
He had defeated Scotland.
"So the war is over?" grunted Angus, tearing at a chicken as he shared dinner with Hew Mar and King Domnall, discussing the latest news regarding Bjorn's death.
"Denmark is reconciled," snapped Domnall grumpily,"We have maybe two weeks of grace before the Pope begins to grow angry at Scottish armies threatening Denmark."
"So it's over," sighed Hew, sitting back and stretching,"I dinnae like leaving a job half done, my Father always told me,"Son, if ye cannae get a job done, ye're a useless sack of shite and I'm sorry I fucked ye into ye mother.""
"HA!" laughed Angus, slapping Hew on the back,"Ye father was a bastard, Hew, sounds like the kind of man I'd like."
"Are we quite done," snapped Domnall,"There is still the matter of Denmark to discuss."
"What is to discuss, my King?" asked Hew,"Ye said it yeself, the Pope does nae want us to kill Danes now that they are reconciled, and we cannae press aggravating our relationship with the Church."
"Nae, lad," Domnall replied, shaking his head,"That's nae an end to it. I set out on this course because the Danes are responsible for a great injury to me and my family, and nae man will stop me having my revenge. The Danes will die at my hands."
"But the Pope?" asked Hew,"Ye said yeself, we have maybe two weeks before he grows angry that we have nae pulled our men back out of the field."
Domnall grinned, and Angus returned it with delight, as Hew felt understanding dawn on him at last.
"Aye lad, only a couple of weeks," smiled Domnall,"So we'd best figure out a way to kill a lot of Danes, very, very quickly."