Part 61: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 60At Halych, Captain Sigifrid had been having a miserable day that was turning into a miserable night. He'd stubbed his toe in the morning after waking and been hobbling most of the day; then the meat he'd eaten for lunch had been spoiled; the day had been stormy and miserable threatening thunder and lightning all day; and word had reached him that another 30 men had deserted their posts overnight.
"Could this night get any worse?" sighed Sigifrid.
Thunder boomed in the air above the castle and the windows flashed bright with lightning as the threatened rain finally came, thundering down powerfully on the roof and against the windows.
"Dammit," grunted Sigifrid, cursing himself for tempting fate,"At least NOW it can't get any worse."
"Captain!" gasped a messenger, rushing into the dining hall where Sigifrid was sitting with his top men sharing a meager late night meal,"Word has come that Krakow has fallen to King Domnall! Captain Eystein's head sits on a pike above the wall and the population has been slaughtered by the mad Scot!"
"In the name of God," whispered one of Sigifrid's commanders,"It's over, Denmark is no more."
"There will always be a Denmark as long as their are Danes," snapped Sigifrid angrily,"May I remind you that it is Krakow that has fallen, not Halych!"
"Captain!" gasped another messenger, charging into the dining hall,"The Scots have marched an army out of the storm to the gates!"
"WHAT!?" demanded Sigifrid in disbelief,"Why have we not heard word yet from our scouts outside the city?"
"Face it, Sigifrid," sighed Inge, Sigifrid's top Commander and most trusted friend,"Any scouts we let out of Halych have disappeared into the forests never to return."
"Well I will not stand idly by to watch the Scots claim the last of the Danes without a fight!" spat Sigifrid,"We've had more than our fair share of bad omens this day, the time has come for the fair Lady Luck to smile upon us!"
"The Scots are lead by Angus the Mauler," spoke up the messenger softly.
"THAT BITCH!" snapped Sigifrid in horror, then turned on the frightened messenger,"Anything else than, man? Have the Scotsmen learned to fly and shoot fire out of their arses?"
In answer came a thundering noise that was not thunder, but the shockwave of a bombard blast against the walls of Halych, and Sigifrid received his latest bad news of the day. Despite the dark of midnight and the thunder, lightning and rain.... the Scottish were coming now.
Outside Halych, Angus huddled up against the rain on his horse and watched with unblinking eyes as bombard fire flew through the air and crashed against the exterior gate.
"Aye, that's it, let's be done with these bastards for good," he grunted. This was miserable weather, but he would be damned if he'd hunker down for the night and give the Danes inside a chance to prepare their defenses. King Domnall had put his trust in him to ride and take the city, hoping that Krakow and Halych would fall at roughly the same time and Denmark would be wiped from the Earth before the Pope could order them to stop their campaign.
The gate shattered and Angus sat up straight, sneering a smile and turning to yell at his men, who passed his orders down the line. The teeming rain and the crash of thunder above them made the concept of a pre-battle speech ludicrous, and besides he didn't have time for one... he had Danes to kill!
"FOLLOW ME, LADS!" cried Angus and spurred his horse forward, the line rippling along behind him as word spread down through the cavalry and infantry and they began to charge for the shattered gate, pounding through the soaked fields before the city. Angus rode at their head, roaring with delighted laughter, his face contorted with battle-lust all ready, his eyes insane as he charged into Halych.... the last city of the Danes.
Angus cast about him with his sword, leering and laughing at the terrified Danes who slipped about in the wet ground beneath them as they tried to avoid his blade. Some came at him thrusting sword-pikes or blades, but he slapped them aside with a laugh, his men thundering through the gates behind him. Thunder crashed and lightning lit up the sky, illuminating Angus' face and deepening the shadows in the grooves and scars of his face, giving him an even more demonic appearance, and Danes fled in horror before him, causing Angus to roar with even greater insane laughter and lead his men on to cut more and more down.
"STAND! STAND AGAINST THEM!" screamed Sigifrid, limping to join his men in the fighting before the wall as flaming arrows peppered down around them and more and more Scots pushed through the gate. His cries of defiance gained him only the attention of the Scottish, however, and they surrounded him, slashing and thrusting their blades, spears and pikes at him as he desperately tried to hold them of, and found that the night really COULD get worse, as they pushed past his desperate defenses and he felt blades thrusting through his armor and into his body. He dropped to his knees and tried to speak, only for blood to spill out of his mouth. An armored Scotsman stepped up beside him and grabbed him by his shoulder, and he looked up through his helm in despair.
"It's nae so bad for ye, lad," the Scottish soldier told him, not unkindly,"At least ye will nae have to live to see the final humiliation."
Captain Sigifrid died lying on the ground of his city, his blood mixing with the rain and the earth as his body turned cold and his eyes stared sightlessly into the stormy sky. His eyes did not see the final humiliation, of watching his men run in terror, of the Scottish chasing them down, of the final soldiers of the once proud Danish Empire were run down and killed one after the other.
He did not see the end of the Danes.
Councillor Tusco the Scarred was a paranoid man.
He had good reason; his scars came from an assassination attempt he'd suffered in his youth. It had left him shaken and determined to never let anyone get the drop on him again, and so he'd employed food testers; refused to grow close to any man or woman; gone to great lengths to cover his tracks even when moving through his own cities; and slept in a different room in a different home picked randomly on different days. Some days he did not get out of bed at all, so convinced was he that assassins or spies lurked around every corner.
Now he had extra reason to be paranoid, as he and his small contingent of men had found themselves trapped in the forests of what had once been Denmark. He'd made the mistake of siding with the Danes to take advantage of a rare chance to kill the King of Scotland, and his gamble had failed miserably. Domnall had taken Krakow, the Danish army that had been to reinforce them had fled in terror, and now Tusco was trying desperately to find a way to get out the new Scottish lands without encountering the marching patrols of Scotsmen maintaining the peace in their new lands.
But even a paranoid man recognized that there came a time when he had to put aside his fears and take a chance, and that was what Tusco was doing now as he lead his men through the forest into a clearing to meet the man who had guaranteed his safety on the name of his family.
And the name of the Canmore's held a great deal of weight.
King Domnall Canmore sat on his horse waiting patiently, a score of men waiting respectfully on the edge of the clearing behind him. The grey-bearded King sat tall in the saddle, looking completely at ease, almost amused as Tusco carefully rode into the clearing and shooed his own men back to the edge as he moved to meet with the King.
"King Domnall," he nodded respectfully.
"Doge Tusco," nodded Domnall back.
"Councillor Tusco," corrected Tusco,"My brother Michael is Doge."
"Of course," grunted Domnall,"Ye made a terrible mistake siding with the Danes.... but I can respect ye taking the opportunity, I would have done the same in ye position."
"Venice's fortunes have faltered in recent times," Tusco admitted,"Our alliance with the Papacy notwithstanding, we've lost lands to the Hungarians and been reduced to our far distant Mediterranean holdings. I had to take the chance to regain a foothold near our traditional home, it was nothing personal."
"Aye, I ken," nodded Domnall,"It's why I got word to ye that I would offer ye safe passage out of my lands if ye agreed to meet me.... there is nae to be gained in war between Venice and Scotland, Doge Tusco, I have only just achieved peace for Scotland again by destroying the Danes, what profit is there in going to war once more?"
"Councillor Tusco," corrected Tusco again,"I am glad to learn you are not a bloodcrazed lunatic who fights simply to fight, King Domnall... I have wronged you in seeking your death, and I can only spend the rest of my life trying to repay you this kindness, you can be guaranteed that when I return to Rhodes I will stress to my brother Michael the importance of opening better trade and diplomatic relations with your great Empire."
Domnall inclined his head and Tusco turned his horse away, keeping a warm smile on his face while inside he was jumping about in delight and relief. The madman had brought war to the Danes for absolutely no reason, and now had seemingly suffered a similar sudden change of attitude and offered peace to a man who had tried to kill him. The Scotsman was clearly mad, but his madness had turned out well for Tusco and for Venice.
"Of course, Doge Tusco," Domnall spoke up again,"Surely ye have the authority to do that now?"
Tusco stopped and turned to look back at the Scottish King, and he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that he had been concentrating on Domnall's words and not his eyes.... eyes filled with contempt and hatred.
"Why do you keep calling me Doge, King Domnall?" Tusco asked.
"Because that is what ye are, "Doge"," replied Domnall calmly,"King of ye own pathetic little Empire.... which currently consists of that horse ye arse is sitting on and those men ye have cowering at the edge of ye clearing."
And Tusco, who had for the last two weeks been hiding in the forests of what had been Denmark out of contact with the rest of the world, realized that the worst had come true.
"Michael," whispered Tusco in horror,"Rhodes.... what about Lenuzo at Smyrna?"
Domnall smirked cruelly at Tusco, and told him.
"Wh... why?" gasped Tusco in shocked horror.
"I thought ye would be happy, "Doge"," sneered Domnall,"Ye tried to kill me and I rewarded ye by making ye a King.... or did ye think I would simply let ye insult go unanswered?"
"Bu... but you said you wanted peace!"
"Aye, and the only peace that could be guaranteed came at the cost of destroying ye pathetic empire," sneered Domnall,"I did nae want war with Venice, so I have destroyed Venice.... well, everything but, ye still live and with ye the Venetian Empire... but I wonder how much comfort that will bring ye at night, when ye sleep alone and unloved on the ground, no home to go to, no family to welcome ye. It is YE who are the Venetian Empire now, and may God have mercy on ye soul... for I will nae."
He turned and began to march his horse away, and Tusco spoke, his voice strained, tears in his eyes.
"Why are you letting me live, you bastard?" sobbed Doge Tusco.
"Why "Doge"," smiled Domnall cruelly,"Why do ye think they call me Domnall the Merciless?"