Part 64: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 63Bulscu smiled as Joan pulled - obviously reluctantly - away from his embrace and stood up, walking away from the plush couch to stare out the wall over the streets of Rome. Smoke rose on the horizon, the end result of a riot put down earlier that day by Bulscu's right-hand man, Denes. The people of Rome had not taken kindly to the Hungarian's occupation of their city, moreso when word had leaked out that the Pope had died personally at the hands of Bulscu. Multiple riots had been savagely put down, the city jails were bulging with malcontents and vandalism and graffiti was affecting residences, businesses and marketplace stalls on a nightly basis.
But Bulscu had plans to change all that, or rather... Joan did.
"I fear sometimes ye have too much of a hold over my senses," Joan said at last, and Bulscu's grin only widened. The remarkable woman had actively pursued him since their first meeting after Joan had been named the new Scottish Diplomat to Rome, though always in secret, away from prying eyes. It would not do for any diplomat to be seen to be in a close relationship with any Hungarian at a time when the Pope was actively condemning their King, let alone a Royal Diplomat, let alone a female one, let alone with a lowly common-born soldier, no matter what his rank.
"ME?" laughed Bulscu,"You're all I think of, Joan."
"Me or what I can offer ye?" asked Joan, still staring out the window,"Both in terms of territory and power... and physically."
"Woman, if I'd wanted just that, I would have taken it the day "I" conquered Rome," laughed Bulscu,"You may have no love for the Pope personally, but you're still a good Christian woman who won't give away her body till we're married... and when will that be?"
"When my Father arrives in Rome," smiled Joan, turning towards him,"Then all our problems will end... when a man as well regarded by the Church as my Father gives his blessing to Hungarian rule of Rome, and his personal blessing to our marriage as a way of unifying our two Nations together for all eternity."
"Until that glorious day," smiled Bulscu, standing and gently kissing Joan on the forehead,"Every moment I wait is an eternity.... now let us put on our little act for our "audience"."
Joan nodded, then stepped back and raised her voice, demanding he leave her presence. The door to her quarters quickly opened and the Hungarian guard who constantly stood outside her door peered through, joined by the prim faced handmaiden who so foolishly believed she was safeguarding the "Virtue" of her Lady.
"I am tired of ye coming here daily to lord ye victory over me!" Joan snapped angrily,"When my Father arrives ye will learn the folly of ye arrogance."
"Let him try," sneered Bulscu,"I killed a Pope, do you think I fear some soft Scotsman who has lived in his Brother's shadow all his life?"
"OUT!" roared Joan, and Bulscu gave a mocking bow and exited the room, as Joan's handmaiden rushed to her side to "comfort" her.
Outside, Bulscu winked at the guard as the door was closed and moved easily down the corridor of a Palace once occupied daily by servants, guards and diplomats from all Nations. Captain Denes quickly fell in beside him to give his report on the daily riots, but it was not long before his only confidant could not resist asking.
"No," grinned Bulscu,"The silly whore is not so lovesick that she will give up that ultimate prize to me just yet, but I mean to have her by the end of the night that her pious bastard of a Father arrives to convince the idiots living in this City that "God" wants Hungary to rule Rome."
"And what then?" asked Denes.
"I will be Royalty," grinned Bulscu,"And she's attractive enough, she'll pop out a few heirs for me and I'll enjoy all the benefits of the royalty she takes for granted - the luxury, the money, the privilege... most importantly, the money.
For Bulscu, conquering the greatest city on Earth and marrying a Princess from the greatest Nation would not be enough.
He wanted it all.
Emperor Loumbertos stood on the walls of Corinth, looking out as the assembled army of Scotsmen that had landed on the island within the previous day. They numbered over 1000 to Loumbertos' own 750, but there was something strange about the army he couldn't quite place his finger on, they seemed less like an army and more like an assemblage.
"They seem.... unfocused, Emperor," suggested Loumbertos' military engineer, who had been casting a critical eye over the infamous Bombards that the Scottish had used to bring down the walls of so many cities.
"That is exactly it," grunted Loumbertos, pleased to finally have the word he was looking for,"Unfocused... they are disciplined enough, but they seem almost to be milling about in place, no one man seems to be commanding them."
"Their Generals all died in that farce of a battle at Nicaea," muttered Loumbertos' Biographer, who had accompanied the Emperor since the day he ascended to the throne, chronicling his every move - celebrating his success and glossing over his failures,"I had heard that Rory of Bute had been commanded to take control of the army that Domnall Canmore ordered here, but that an agent of the Inquisition delayed him at trial... surely a good sign for us, they are an army without a General."
"Perhaps," muttered Loumbertos, staring out at the gathered army once more, unable to shake a feeling of foreboding, a dark pressure on his shoulders. They had no General, but the Scottish were highly vaunted for their fighting prowess, would a lack of Command merely mean this would be the unfocused destruction of the Byzantine Empire?
Outside the walls of Corinth, Captain Duncan snapped irritably to his men to get into formation, frowning as the line staggered and shifted as the Commanders of each unit struggled to quiet their men and get them into position. Rory of Bute was supposed to be leading this battle, but his trial had seen him delayed beyond the impossible deadline that Aodh Canmore had set for the elimination of the last of the Byzantines. Rory had been found innocent at trial, but it would be at least a week before he arrived, and the Byzantines - by royal proclamation - had to fall today.
"Forward now, men!" he cried,"The City Gate will open for us... KEEP IN FORMATION DAMN YOU!"
Slowly, staggered and almost casually, the Scottish soldiers moved up the hill towards the gate of Corinth, and as Duncan had promised, the gate rumbled open to the horror of the Byzantine soldiers standing on the walls.
And then battled was joined between the men of Scotland and the last of the Byzantines.
The Spearmen had been the best trained in the Byzantine Empire, even before they had become amongst the ONLY spearmen in the Byzantine Empire. They were the last in a line of soldiers stretching back over 1000 years, disciplined and deadly either as individual units or collectively. They held their place as the Scottish charged eagerly into them, responding to the shouted orders of their commanders as they braced, held and attempted to counter the chaotic, screaming and laughing Scotsmen.
But a wall, no matter how well built, cannot stand forever against the lashing of a wild ocean, and the Byzantines found their tight ranks being split, the Scottish pushing through, fighting with wild abandon and a reckless frenzy as their bloodlust demanded to be sated, their aggression unleashed thanks to the lack of an established, respected General.
Archers stormed down from the walls and the Scottish roared in delight to have fresh blood to kill, but as they turned to charge the terrified looking Byzantines, a trumpet sounded and the thunder of hooves grew louder down the dusty streets of Corinth. The Scots turned and saw to their horror they'd left themselves completely exposed to a cavalry charge from Vardariotai and the personal cavalry of Emperor Loumbertos himself.
Suddenly the walls shook as the Bombards opened fire on the archers still standing on the walls firing down into the throng of fighting Scotsmen. Captain Duncan screamed at them to save their firepower and they turned to stare at him in confusion, and Duncan cursed before turning to his own cavalry.
"Come on then, lads," he grunted,"Let's save the Infantry's ass, as usual."
"CAVALRY!" roared Loumbertos, pointing them out to his men,"DEAL TO THE INFANTRY, QUICKLY!"
"THAT'S THE FUCKING EMPEROR!" screamed a Pikeman in astonishment, pointing out Loumbertos in turn,"GET'EM LADS!"
This time, the assembled Scottish were more than happy to follow an order.
"THE EMPEROR!" screamed Loumbertos' men as they saw him fall, and then the Cavalry smashed against them, thundering past their own infantry to deal the finishing blow to their morale, sending the Byzantines running in terror, their discipline broken.
"WE'VE DONE IT LADS!" roared Duncan in delight as he watched the Byzantine horsemen fleeing... and then a flaming arrow plunged into his neck and he fell from his horse, choking and spasming as the Scottish wheeled about in confusion, remembering too late that Byzantine archers who had come down from the walls to be slaughtered before the Emperor had arrived to save them.
The Infantry fell onto the archers in a fury, slaughtering them as they struggled in desperation for their own blades. Any control that had been exerted on the unfocused army was completely gone now, as the battle shifted into a massacre, with the Scottish attacking with reckless disregard for their own lives to destroy the Byzantines.
Finally, when all were cut down, the red haze lifted from the Scottish, and they stared around at the heaped bloody bodies surrounding them, confused as to what to do now. Their "leader" was dead, who was going to command them.
"There are Byzantines left, lads," spoke a Highlander finally,"Get those bloody Bombards in and let's go deal to the last of them."
And together the Scottish set out to deal the final, killing blow to a once proud and dominant Empire that - in its heyday - had stretched out further than even the mighty Scottish Empire.
They marched through the streets to the hill upon which sat the interior wall of the City. Byzantine Archers lined the walls, and as the Bombards rolled up to fire on the walls, the surviving Vardariotai rode out to hold the Infantry in place for the archers to fire upon them.
As the walls finally crumpled under the attack of the Bombards, the archers abandoned the walls, lining up within the breach to fire wave after wave of flaming arrows into the Infantry, holding them back as surely as the wall had.
"KEEP THEM PINNED DOWN!" screamed the Byzantine Archers' Captain,"DON'T LET THEM GAIN THE HILL!"
"FIRE YE BLASTED BOMBARD AT THEM!" screamed a Highlander to the Bombard Commander as flaming arrows raining down onto him and his men.
"THERE IS NAE MORE TO FIRE!" roared back the Bombard Commander,"RUSH THEM!"
"YE RUSH THEM!" snapped the Highlander angrily, then spat on the ground angrily,"To buggery with this, pull back lads! PULL BACK!"
And to the astonishment of the Byzantines, the Scottish did just that, pulling back out of range of the archers and then, out of the city itself.
"It's... it's over," gasped one of the soldiers,"We held off the Scottish... WE BEAT THE SCOTTISH!"
The men cheered raggedly, but then their Commander angrily shouted them down.
"Oh yes, we chased them off," he snapped angrily,"All it cost us was our Emperor, the walls and most of our men. You idiots don't get it, do you? Their General has yet to arrive; they're hardly running far since we're on an Island; the Noble line of the Emperors has been broken.... we won the battle, but we've lost the War. The Byzantine Empire is ended."
Bulscu rode out on horseback resplendent in his armor, highly polished and sitting high in the saddle. Hungarians lined the walls of the city, and the streets of Rome were deserted, a curfew strictly enforced by Denes to avoid any embarrassment as he met with one of the most powerful men in the world (now that Bulscu had killed the Pope), and soon to be his Father-in-Law.
Aodh had landed and disembarked from a fleet of ships on the shore two days ride from Rome and made his way with his personal bodyguard to meet with Bulscu outside the gates of the city under a diplomatic flag of truce. Joan had spent the last week carefully preparing Bulscu for the meeting, telling him what to say and what not to say, stressing the importance of not revealing to anyone what only she, Bulscu and Aodh knew - that Aodh had masterminded the Hungarian capture of Rome.
After Joan had successfully pursued and captured Bulscu, many of the long nights they spent together in secret were spent discussing their disdain for the Pope - who was determined to continue his predecessor's obsession with heresy, interfering with the workings of the rightful rulers of those nations, questioning their determination and desire to be good Christians and creating unrest in their populations. Even the lauded Scotland had faced such issues, most recently Rory of Bute being delayed on the way to battle with the Byzantines due to an Inquisitor acting like a law unto himself.
Bulscu had known that Joan would not give herself "fully" to him until they were married, but that there was no chance of a common soldier marrying a Royal Scottish Princess. But when Joan had suggested to Bulscu that perhaps he could prove his worth to her Father by removing the Pope - something a "loyal" Christian like Aodh could never do - he had leapt at the chance. He could marry Joan and bed her, which would be nice, but the true prize on his greedy mind was becoming Royalty himself, ruling Rome and gaining great prestige in the eyes of his own King - a terrifying man who did not give out praise readily.
So the conspiracy had been born, and Bulscu had conquered Rome, and now Aodh had arrived ahead of a large army put together purely for appearance's sake. They would meet outside the gates of Rome and - once again for the sake of appearance - go through the motions of accusation, defense, negotiation, compromise and finally acceptance. By the end of their negotiations, Aodh would be invited into the City where he would dine with Bulscu and his own daughter in the former Palace ruled by a once unbroken line of Popes, then tomorrow he would speak to the people of Rome and give the blessing of the Scottish Empire to the Hungarian rule of Rome. He would also announce the marriage of Bulscu to his daughter Joan to "ensure" that Hungary would have spiritual guidance, and then he would remain for a few months governing Rome before handing over power to Bulscu and Joan to rule together... though of course, Bulscu meant to rule in name only, let Joan do all the hard work of Governance, he meant to simply enjoy the benefits.
"Keep up appearances," Bulscu warned Denes, who was riding beside him,"Remember, we're supposed to be terrified that he is bringing the full fury of the Scottish Empire upon us."
Denes nodded, struggling to keep his smile down as he imagined the "scraps" he would be getting from the "Royal Table". He was a loyal hound dog, and the Royal hound dogs were always well fed... as the confidant to the Governor of Rome he would have power beyond even that of his own King.
"Noble Lord," Bulscu said with a bow as he reached Aodh, who was glaring at him with steely, unreadable eyes,"You have my undying gratitude for agreeing to this diplomatic meeting, it is my greatest hope that the terrible misunderstanding over the Pope's death can be resolv-"
Aodh spat in his face.
Bulscu mouth hung open in shock, his carefully rehearsed speech completely wiped from his mind by the unexpected action. Aodh leaned forward in the saddle and when he spoke, his voice was so laden with contempt and hate that Bulscu felt each word like a physical blow.
"Ye killed the Christ on Earth, ye miserable pile of dung," hissed Aodh Canmore,"I will nae rest until ye hang by ye own guts from the walls of the City, and there ye will remain until stray dogs pull ye body down and to pieces."
Before Bulscu's astonished eyes, Aodh turned his horse around and rode away, leaving the Hungarian Captain sitting stunned on his own horse. The Scottish Prince rejoined his men and turned back to look at the Hungarian, and then said two words that struck even more terror into his heart.
The guard outside Joan Canmore's "quarters" high up inside the Palace yawned, wondering how long it would be until his replacement arrived. His boredom was broken though by the sounds of running, and he placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, wondering if those fools who had been rioting recently had broken into the Palace. He relaxed slightly when the source of the running footsteps was revealed to be his Commander - Captain Bulscu - charging down the hall, until he frowned and wondered what the cause of his rush was.
"OUT OF THE WAY!" roared Bulscu, slamming the unfortunately guard aside and ripping open the door to Joan's quarters,"YOU BITCH! YOU LI-"
For the second time that day, Bulscu found himself at a loss for words. He charged through the quarters, flipping the heavy bed, the furniture, tearing through the wardrobe and ripping down the tapestries. But no matter where he looked, no matter what he destroyed.... the quarters remained empty.
Joan Canmore had somehow disappeared from her quarters, which had only one entrance and was constantly guarded.
Bulscu dropped to the floor with a thud as the final sick realization of what had happened overcame him. All her protests of saving herself for marriage, the way that she always managed to disentangle from him when their embraces grew too passionate... the way she had approached him, had first put the conspiracy into his head, had promised him so much on her word and her word alone.
Bulscu had never bedded Joan Canmore, but now he realized that she had somehow still managed to find a way to completely fuck him.