Part 65: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 64Aodh Canmore had seen and done much in his lifetime, but he'd never thought he would find himself sharing dinner with the Christ-on-Earth in a command tent on a field near a Rome fallen to Hungarians.
"To a return to reason," smiled the Pope, raising his glass, and the Scottish Prince returned the toast, smiling warmly at the new Pope who had - in memory of his murdered predecessor - taken the name of Alferius.
"Rome will be back in Christian hands within the week," noted Aodh,"Bulscu will be even now shivering in his boots over the name I left him with at our meeting."
"Ahh yes, Dougall Macdonchie?" asked Alferius,"Tell me, my son, why do they call him "Unstoppable?"
"Because he cannae be stopped, Holy Father," smirked Aodh,"While my brother is renowned for his talents on the field of battle, Dougall is equally regarded when it comes to sieges. He learned much from the conquering of Toulouse, in the Spanish Campaign he perfected his techniques... there is nae a city in the world that he cannae take, and there is nae a General alive who does nae ken it."
"Truly then he is a gift from God... as is Scotland, and particularly you, my son," smiled Alferius.
"Ye flatter me, Holy Father," replied Aodh, obviously pleased,"I merely serve God, as all good Christians should... as ye do."
"Sometimes it seems men forget that simple lesson, Aodh," nodded Alferius, the wine loosening his tongue, making him more familiar and less remote,"To serve God... what more can any man do?"
"And yet so many do nae recognize this, and create unnecessary complication," agreed Aodh,"I can only imagine the pressures and stress ye face as Pope, Holy Father, to be forced away from meditation upon the spiritual needs of the world to focus so much on the material, on the secular."
"Indeed, if only I could," smiled Alferius sadly,"I would spend my days in prayer and reflection, so that God could speak to me and I could in turn spread his word to the people. Sometimes I feel like Moses, coming down from the Mountain with the word of God inscribed on stone tablets, only to discover his people fallen to decadence and worshipping a false idol."
"Heavy is the head that wears the crown, so goes the old saying," noted Aodh,"To be the man chosen to represent the King of Kings.... as I said, I can only imagine the pressure."
The two sat in silent rumination for several moments, and then the tent flap opened and a messenger stepped through, bowing apologetically for interrupting the dinner.
"Obviously you had good reason to do so," smiled Alferius beatifically,"Speak, my son."
"Captain Bulscu has ridden an army of 2000 out of Rome towards our location," spoke the messenger,"And a force of 1200 Hungarians have been seen marching from the mountains in the East where Bulscu's forces originally rode out to take Rome by surprise."
"I suspected he might do the former," noted Aodh,"But the latter is a surprise, it seems Bulscu was not as frank as he might have been with my contact inside Rome... he's smarter than I gave him credit for."
"You have a contact in Rome?" asked the Pope.
"My daughter, Joan," smiled Aodh,"Her position kept her safe from the depravities of the Hungarians, but her beauty was enough for Bulscu to become smitten with her and reveal more than he should have in an attempt to impress her."
"I have never understood the male infatuation with women," sighed Alferius,"I take it that this news does not affect your timetable to recover Rome?"
"I doubt it, we camped here and I revealed Dougall's name to Bulscu hoping for just such a result... Bulscu is about to discover a fatal lesson my Father and Uncle taught the Mongols - numbers do nae matter when ye opponent holds the terrain advantage."
As the Scottish soldiers were ordered into position by a busy Dougall Macdonchie, Aodh Canmore sat his horse looking over what would be the site of the battle, and mused on what some would call a coincidence, but that he saw as a sign from God.
"In hoc signo vinces," he whispered to himself, as he stared over the Milvian Bridge, where 1000 years earlier Constantine had defeated Maxentius before taking control of Rome and ending the persecution of the Christians.
And on the other side of the bridge, he knew that Bulscu was just as aware of the parallels, including the fact that Maxentius' decision to ride out of Rome to meet Constantine had spelt his doom.
"Pikemen, I want ye on the end of that bridge, ye shall nae let any pass!" snapped Dougall angrily as he pushed the last of his men into position,"This bridge will be their corridor of death, dinnae let any pass!"
The Pikemen cried out in excitement as they stepped onto the ancient Bridge, getting their own blood up for what would be the most brutal and bloody part of the battlefield that day. On either side of where the bridge became part of the Via Flaminia road, Pikemen stood waiting to reinforce and support them, with archers and pavise crossbowmen stretching out to either side waiting eagerly to open fire on what would soon be a bridge tightly packed with Hungarian soldiers fighting desperately to get across. On the farthest flanks of the army lines, two bombards each meant to do just the same, though to more devastating effect. Behind them all stood the cavalry, waiting to charge and destroy any Hungarian that somehow, someway made it through the lines to the other side of the bridge.
"Is all in readiness?" Aodh asked Dougall as he rode back into place beside the Prince.
"Aye, as battles go, a bridge fight is more like a siege than open warfare," nodded Dougall respectfully. He had fought alongside Domnall and Adam and knew both men well - he considered Domnall with awe but also enjoyed his company, and he respected the man Adam had become and was eternally grateful for the man saving his life at Toulouse - but he had never been able to come to grips with how he felt about Aodh. He respected the man's obvious intelligence, but when you looked into Aodh's eyes you saw nothing that he did not want you to see, the man was guarded and careful about his true feelings, and it made him difficult to be friends with,"Bulscu will be emboldened by his reinforcements and will seek to push through over the bridge by sheer force of numbers and weight, and he'll learn the lesson that Subutai learnt when Edward Canmore removed his head."
"I would hope so," nodded Aodh,"Command the men, Dougall, victory today will see Rome returned to Christianity."
"Hold ye places men!" cried Dougall, his voice carrying easily across the preternatural stillness,"They will come to us soon enough in their droves, eager and excited to feel the blades of true men, maybe they think our arms will grow tired and our swords dull from overuse... but what they dinnae ken is that a Scotsman never tires of three things - fucking, drinking, and killing! So kill away, lads, and when we get to Rome, the fuckings are on me.... but ye'll have to pay for ye own bloody drinks!"
The men roared with laughter and turned to brace, ready to absorb the impact of the Hungarians they knew would be coming at any moment. Their laughter continued as the Hungarians fired their own artillery from far back amongst their ranks only for the blasts to smash harmlessly on the ground far before the Scotsmen, and they laughed louder as the Scottish fired back with a salvo of their own artillery and smashed into the ancient trebuchet sticking up amongst the Hungarian ranks, shattering them.
But the laughter died and the faces became serious, and then confused as angry muttering spread through the ranks... because the Hungarians did not seem to have received their copy of the expected turn of events for the day.
They were not coming.
"Redirect on their front ranks!" roared Dougall,"They must either retreat or come forward onto the bridge, FIRE!"
The Bombards were quickly shifted back into position by their experienced, efficient crew, and the results were immediate, as a fiery ball was propelled directly into the tightly packed mass of crossbowmen that seemed to be waiting for the Scottish infantry to move out further onto the bridge. The reaction was immediate but not what Dougall had hoped for, as the crossbowmen simply moved quickly and - more disturbingly - efficiently back into formation several steps back, out of the effective aimed range of the Bombards.
"Archers!" growled Dougall,"Open fire on those ranks, if those obstinate bastards think we're coming to them, they can think again!"
Highland Archers rushed forward through the ranks of armored Pikemen on the bridge and opened fire, shooting flaming arrows high into the air. The Hungarian Crossbow fired volleys of their own across the length of the bridge, but most fell short or harmlessly at the feet of the Archers. But again Dougall found his strategy ineffective, as the crossbowmen simply turned their backs, the flaming arrows either lodging in or bouncing off of the thick shields they wore on their backs.
"What the hell are they doing?" grunted Dougall angrily, then squinted his eyes and cursed as he saw the Hungarians roll up a catapult behind their crossbowmen, preparing to fire over the bridge and into the Archers,"Damn it, why would they refuse to come at us? They have the numbers, it suits US for them to stay in place."
"Because they're realized what this is," grunted Aodh angrily,"A siege."
"My Lord?" asked Dougall, confused.
"Dougall the Unstoppable," Aodh mused,"When Bulscu heard ye name, he near to shat his pants... because how could he defend Rome from ye? But how could he hope to beat the Scottish on the field of battle? Even with an extra 1200 men coming to his aid could he guarantee victory, considering our history of destroying vastly superior numbers? How to beat Scotland? By creating a "new" siege, of course, by doing what Maxentius did but doing it right. Instead of defending the multiple entrances to Rome and spreading his men thin, he has set up location on the other side of the bridge and refused to move from it. We must come to him if we want to fight, he is no Mongol, he kens that sheer force and numbers are nae enough.... once again the bastard has proved himself smarter that I gave him credit for."
"So what do we do then?" asked Dougall.
"Why is it nae clear?" said Aodh, and a wide smile crossed his face that again reminded Dougall how difficult it was to read the Scottish Prince,"We become Mongols."
Miles from the battlefield, Pope Alferius sat reviewing notes carefully. His sudden rise to the Christ-on-Earth had been a surprise to him, but a welcome one. He sorely regretted the death of his predecessor, but once benefit from the long reign of Pope Vilanus had been that the College of Cardinals had all shared a like mind. All the shortlived Popes that had followed Vilanus had been cut from the same cloth, and shared in the same ideals that Alferius himself believed in. Heresy was the greatest threat to the Church, and the Church itself needed to be in constant communication with the leaders of the world's nations, to remind them that God's will was paramount over all others.
Take Scotland for example - a paragon of virtue and true example of Christianity, but still with all too human and mortal flaws. Alferius had many plans to discuss with Aodh Canmore once the man had recaptured Rome for him, a long standing dream of his had been to create Royal Papal Officers - men who would work alongside Kings, Princes and Emperors on a daily basis guiding them in the Church's direction. Perhaps one day the two roles would become one, and the Kings of the Nations of the World would become - as they rightly should be - servants working to fulfill the wishes of God.
And those wishes - of course - would be communicated through - and by - him.
"Before my Uncle turned the world on its ear," Aodh pronounced loudly, grabbing the attention of the soldiers glaring angrily and impotently across the bridge at the Hungarians,"This was how war was fought. Two sides yelling insults at each other across a gap, whittling away at the edges until the patience of one was broken and the slaughter commenced."
He paused for effect, knowing that their attention was on him fully.
"Boring, it is nae?" he asked, and the men laughed in surprise.
"Poets speak of the glory of war!" he continued,"And bards tell tales of the valor of men fallen defending their country, their home, their family! But rarely do they tell the truth that only a soldier kens... that war is brutal and bloody and stupid.... but necessary. The men of Scotland who have fought and bled to drag ourselves back from the brink of extinction to dominate the world did so with glad hearts because they ken that what they fought for was WORTH every death, all the blood, every injury and crippling and horror that they saw! And yet now, in a battle for the most noble of causes, as Scotland reaches the culmination of everything it has fought for.... we return to the past? This piddling farce of a battle? Are we gentlemen playing chess? Do we think so little of our men and our own lives that we place them and play them like pieces? I say NAE! I say that the greatest difference between Scotland and the rest of the world is that ye leaders, ye noblemen, ye Generals, aye even ye King.... will face every depravation and sacrifice right alongside ye. A Canmore fights on the frontline with his men... and where is nae frontline... we will make one."
"He can't mean..." started Dougall, realization dawning on him alongside equal parts horror and disbelief.
"So I say that the MEN of Scotland will ride across that bridge and to hell with "strategy", to hell with "tactics"! I say that WE are better than the Hungarians, man for man we are better than them! So across that bridge, lads, and show the men of Hungary the price of crossing God and Scotland!"
The men stared in horror at Aodh, what he was suggesting was suicide! Did he really expect them to rush headlong across the bridge into certain death? If the crossbows didn't kill them, the vast numbers of Hungarians on the other side would once they trapped the Scottish at the end of the bridge.
"And as I said, lads," smiled Aodh as he stared across the dumbstruck faces of his soldiers,"A Canmore fights on the frontline with his men... so if any of ye are men, ye'll follow me, and if I'm any sort of man... I will lead ye."
And with that, Prince Aodh Canmore rode his horse past his soldiers, past his archers, onto the Milvian Bridge, prepared to test his greatest beliefs. God helped those who helped themselves, but he was about God's work today, and he was convinced he would be the "in hoc signo vinces" for his men.
If he was wrong, he'd find out VERY quickly.
"The fool has given us victory!" gasped Bulscu in delight as he watched Aodh lead his suicide charge across the bridge and into the Crossbowmen,"HALBERDS! GO AND GIVE THE IDIOTS AND THEIR HORSES A GOOD POKING!"
The Halberds cried out in delight and rushed to join the throng, which was easily resisting the pressure of the cavalry trying to push through them. Dougall Macdonchie and scores of Feudal Knights had ridden to the aid of the Scottish Prince, but the Infantry remained standing across the length of the bridge, staring in disbelief as Aodh Canmore reenacted the great Mongol Battles of decades earlier... but from the other, losing side.
"Spurn me, will you, Joan Canmore?" grinned Bulscu fiercely as he watched his men surrounding the end of the bridge where the Scottish Cavalry was now trapped,"Spit in my face, Aodh Canmore? I will end your lives and take your cities... I'll send your heads to your pathetic old King, the time of the Canmores is over, the age of Bulscu is beginning."
And then, from far across the bridge came an almighty roar, and Bulscu looked up in alarm as he saw the Scottish Infantry - almost as one - lunge forward towards the bridge, rushing to the aid of their Prince. A Canmore fought on the frontline with his men, and now his men were rushing to the frontline to join him.
"No matter," sneered Bulscu,"Let them all die together then."
"AODH!" roared Dougall as he rode up beside the Prince, who was hacking energetically away at the grasping Hungarians surrounding him,"HAVE YE GONE MAD!?!"
Aodh twisted in his saddle to look at Dougall, and Macdonchie was taken aback by the shining joy in his Prince's eyes, and the exalted look on his face. The man had seemingly fallen into a religious fervor, but when he spoke, his words sounded not mad, but inspired.
"By God man, we've become so detached!" he cried, slashing away a Halberd and booting the man holding it in the face,"Fighting our battles from afar, turning war into an intellectual affair... THIS is war, Dougall, man against man, and may the best man win!"
"There are THOUSANDS OF THEM!" gasped Dougall,"YE'VE RIDDEN US INTO AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION!"
"If there are thousands," retorted Aodh, sweat running copiously down his features and the huge grin still plastered across his face,"Then we'd best get about killing them!"
And so they did. Noblemen, commoners, infantry, archers, cavalry and officers all bunched together and fought side by side. The Hungarians came endlessly at them, knowing that the Scottish were trapped where they stood and could not run without being slaughtered. Tamas' men had long since arrived and reinforced the Hungarians, and Bulscu screamed orders to his men to slaughter every last Scotsman where he stood, intending to turn the Tiber River red with their blood. People still spoke of Mongol Bridge over Blood River where Gawain had turned aside the first Mongolian Horde, and the final stand at Emperor's Bridge were Edward had removed Subutai's head from his shoulders. In the future, Bulscu was convinced, Milvian Bridge would not be remembered for Constantine's conversion, but for the location of the beginning of the end for the Scottish Empire. After all, as brave as the Scottish were, as legendary their toughness and stubborn refusal to surrender.... it was simply impossible for them to overcome such odds, Bulscu HAD learned the lesson - numbers did not matter, control of the terrain did.
There was just one problem with Bulscu's grand vision.
No one had told the Scottish.
Before Bulscu's horrified eyes, the Scottish repelled wave after wave of Hungarians, and despite the never ending pressure of the weight of the Hungarians bearing down on them, the Scottish stood firm at the edge of the bridge. Aodh Canmore and Dougall Macdonchie were like banners drawing the Hungarians to them hoping to kill the Prince and the General, but they stood their ground and fought off their would be assassins, and scores, perhaps hundreds, of Scottish Infantry rushed to their aide, proud to fight alongside and die to protect the Prince who had ridden alone into the frontline of the Hungarians to remind them what it was to be men.
"SCOTLAND! SCOTLAND!" the chant had started, deep within the ranks of men, and it had swelled and swelled before shifting and changing to,"CANMORE! CANMORE! CANMORE!"
The age of the Canmores was not over just yet.
Bulscu watched as his men began to break and run in terror from the laughing, singing, chanting Scotsmen, first in single numbers, then in their dozens, their scores and finally their hundreds.
And then the Scottish began to chase after them.
It was at that point that Bulscu decided to hell with his Grand Vision, turned tail and ran alongside his men.
"Chase down as many as ye can," roared Aodh,"They presumed to take Rome!?! They presumed to fight the men of Scotland!?! They presumed ANYTHING!?! KILL THEM ALL!"
At that point, the men of Scotland would have gone to hell if he'd asked them to. They rushed eagerly after the fleeing Hungarians, ignoring the exhaustion of their own fatigued bodies, moving on pure adrenaline. They chased after the Hungarians who had survived, leaving behind the bridge where all had expected to meet their end only a few minutes earlier.... leaving behind a slaughter that WOULD be spoken of for decades to come, perhaps even centuries, but not as Bulscu had hoped.
Tamas cursed the day he'd ever heard the name Bulscu. As he ran from the Scottish, he wondered how their King would react to this terrible humiliation. Bulscu had taken Rome without permission, hoping that the prize of the Greatest City in the World would mollify his King, but now they had lost Rome, lost two massive armies, been humiliated by the Scottish.... if he survived this, could he ever show his face to the King again?
Unfortunately for Tamas - or perhaps fortunately considering Istok's reputation - that was something he would not need to worry about.
For his part, Bulscu tried to lose himself amongst his fleeing men, surreptitiously tripping men where and when he could, hoping that the Scots would be delayed in killing them and allow him to escape. But then the sounds of hooves began to thunder louder and louder behind him, and he knew there was one man who would never let him escape, no matter what.
"It's no... it's not fair," he gasped as he tried in vain to outrun the horses,"He USED ME!"
But if any heard his complaint, none offered him any solace. Bulscu had gambled and lost, acting without consent of his King and against the Greatest City in the World, killing the Christ on Earth, and now Aodh Canmore was bringing down the wrath of God upon him.
Bulscu's final thoughts before Aodh rode him down were that it was strange that Aodh Canmore was the instrument of God's will... because Bulscu was sure he was the Devil.
Finally it was done, of the more than 3200 Hungarians that had taken to the field and rushed against what should have been the final stand of the Scottish, less than 300 escaped the field of battle alive. Dougall Macdonchie stared around him in amazement as the Scottish let loose cheers and began chanting Aodh's name, and Dougall eagerly joined in. What Aodh had done was unheard of, and pure madness... but magnificent madness, the same type of madness that had seen Edward Canmore take control of the Holy Lands.
"Nae, nae," cried Aodh, raising his hands and silencing them,"Ye give me credit? The credit is nae mine for this victory."
Dougall lowered his head respectfully, expecting to hear the pious Prince offer a prayer of thanks to God for their victory. But once more, Aodh surprised him.
"The men of Scotland proved themselves just that this day," Aodh called out loudly, so all could hear. He gestured to the bloody, exhausted men standing, squatting or sitting across the length of the battlefield,"To the General's go the glory, but nae this day, this day the liberation of Rome and the return of God's grace to it's people goes to the fighting men of Scotland."
And ragged and exhausted though they were, the Infantry managed to raise a cheer to join that of the cavalry and archers paying tribute to them.
Outside St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Alferius spoke to the adoring and rapt crowds of Rome as he ushered in the return of the Holy Father to the Greatest City in the World. As he spoke, invoking his blessing upon the brave men who had risked their lives to riot against the brief Hungarian rule and proclaiming God's punishment on those same Hungarians - including Captain Denes, who had fled the city with his small garrison when word had reached him of Bulscu's death, Aodh Canmore sat staring at the Obelisk sitting in the midst of Circus Gai et Neronis, surrounded by thousands of Christians, many of whom had no idea that only 1300 years earlier those who shared their religion had died with the last sight they would ever see being that same obelisk.
"This is a day for signs," Aodh whispered under his breath, remembering that the obelisk had come from Egypt at the behest of the Roman Emperor Caligula. Egypt, where inside an ancient pyramid built by a heathen culture could be found stone chiseled hieroglyphs in the form of his own ancient family crest. He had fought the Hungarians at Milvian Bridge where 1000 years ago Constantine had defeated Maxentius and brought Christianity to the Romans. He had finally reached the crossroads to match the one he had once reached in his long ago vision, and now the Pope himself was giving him the final weapon he needed to complete a plan he had set in motion so many years ago.
All these were signs from God, as far as Aodh Canmore was concerned, whether Alferius knew it or not, the Pope was finally achieving the goal he'd been created for - to communicate through human terms the Word of God.
"...dh Canmore, a true Christian son of a truly Christian nation!" the Pope was proclaiming,"He came to the defense of Rome in our hour of greatest need, and put all his trust in God as he threw himself
bodily into the Hungarian frontline! He is a man that my predecessors were glad to call friend and a true servant of God, and I too name him such! I present to you, peoples of Rome, the man who has all ready agreed to govern Rome in service to the Church!"
The crowd roared their approval and cheered as Aodh stood from his seat on the hastily erected podium where the Pope had been holding forth, but now stepped aside and beamed with pride at the Pope. Behind him sat Dougall Macdonchie, Joan Canmore, and several of the dignitaries, diplomats and prominent merchants who had survived the Hungarian occupation.... and one other man. All eyes were on Aodh as he stepped into the Pope's place and waited for the cheering and chanting of the name "Canmore" to die down, and then he raised his voice and cried out a speech that he had been preparing for years now, his voice traveling easily to the gathered masses.
"Scotland serves the Church, and the Church serves God!" he proclaimed proudly,"And it is the Pope who communicates to us God's will! Who among us can imagine the pressure, the stress, the unrelenting tension of trying not only to communicate the message of the Divine to one we can all understand, but also deal with the all too human concerns of politics, diplomacy and even city governance!?! Truly we as sheep have thrown too much weight onto the shoulders of our shepherd, Pope Alferius, truly we have allowed our own petty squabbles to distract him from his meditations upon the spiritual needs of the world, to focus so much on the material, on the secular."
The Pope raised an eyebrow, he recognized those words, from their recent dinner.
"I am sure that the Pope would prefer to spend his days in prayer and reflection, so that God could speak to him and he could in turn spread his word to the people," continued Aodh,"And this consideration more than any other is why I have agreed to govern Rome at his request.... and why I have decided that I will make it my life's work to give our Pope the freedom to commune with God."
"Aodh!" gasped Alferius, struggling to his feet as his robes conspired to trip him, seeing all too clearly where this was going. As he reached his feet, a hand reached out to steady him and suddenly Alferius felt himself grow weak, dizziness overwhelming him and causing the assembled crowd to gasp out in horror. As Alferius stumbled backwards, the hand steadying him instead fully supported him, and he found himself being lowered back into his chair, the stranger who had helped him kneeling beside him, apparently checking on him before announcing to Aodh that the Pope was merely overwhelmed by the stress of the day.
"Thank you, Eoin," smiled Aodh to Eoin Makartane, who had - as ordered - administered a paralytic to the Pope on the off-chance he had objected to Aodh's speech. He turned back to the concerned looking crowd,"Here we see the result of the pressures on our Pope, overwhelmed and weakened by the pressures that we have put on him. This basilica behind me is named for Saint Peter, who died in this very square as the first Pope. Christ told Peter that he would be the rock upon which God's Church would be built, the foundation on which it would rest. But that foundation has been crumbling as the Pope has been forced to focus too much on the secular world, pursuing heresy and trying to impart God's wisdom to the rulers of the nations of the world. Well I say nae more, I say it is time that we grew up and took responsibility for ourselves! I say that we allow the Pope his meditations and prayers, let him commune with God and present his thoughts and feelings, his spiritual guidance to all the peoples of the world from this very spot, here in Rome. In the meantime, we shall govern our cities and run our nations and work our every day lives. We shall focus on secular matters, always safe in the knowledge that the Pope will always be there, praying for us, handing down guidance and wisdom gained through meditation and prayer with God... let us become worthy of God's love!"
And the crowd roared their approval, women weeping and men's hearts swelling with pride as Aodh's speech worked to perfection, weaving a spell that told them everything they wanted to hear, and promising them everything while they in fact were handing over control of their lands and homes to the Scottish Empire.
As the Pope was escorted to his chambers by Eoin Makartane and the crowd chanted both his name and Aodh's, Joan Canmore hid a small smile. She knew her Father had done it for what he truly believed to be good, moral and - more importantly - divinely mandated reasons, but the fact was, Scotland had just removed the Papal States from existence and guaranteed an end to the random interference of the Church into the dealings and rulings of the world's nations.... all without spilling a drop of blood in anger.
It was later in the week that the city of Rome fully celebrated the removal of a hated occupier and the embracing of a beloved one. The Pope had been removed to his own personal chambers after - still disorientated from Eoin's drug - signing a declaration authorizing Aodh's transfer of control of the Papal States, effectively annexing the lands of the Church into Scottish hands. After a day, the Pope had angrily summoned Aodh before him to accuse him of masterminding a bloodless coup, and had found himself left dizzy again, but this time not due to drugs but Aodh's effortless and humble speech. The Scottish Prince had affected surprise at the accusation, reminding Alferius of his own comments regarding his desire to return to meditation and prayer so as to better offer spiritual guidance to the Christian peoples. He'd then pointed out that Alferius - and several previous Popes - had often spoken highly of Scotland and Aodh himself as true Christians, and so how could there have been a coup if a true believer and Prince of a nation of true believers was governing the lands of the Papal States? As Alferius had struggled for an answer, Aodh had reminded him that the purpose of the Pope was to provide a guiding light for all Christians to aspire to and to communicate God's voice and offer spiritual guidance to the Church, NOT to run countries, handle diplomacy and take an interest in the economies of other nations. He'd then turned the tables on Alferius, implying that the Pope was more interested in the power of his position than the duties of the role. Completely flummoxed, Alferius had ended up apologizing to Aodh, who had found himself in the remarkable position of offering forgiveness to the Christ-on-Earth.
It would take time, but Alferius would soon come to terms with the new "old" take on his role as Pope. He would come to relish his weekly speeches, and enjoy the pleasure of having thousands gather at the Basilica to hear his proclamations and guidance. By the time he died and a new Pope replaced him, the idea of the Pope as a political figure would be a thing of the past, which was all for the best. Aodh had achieved his goals for noble purpose, he truly believed that his long ago dream had been a vision, a direct communication from God. He had been seeking purpose all his life and found it in the words of God, warning him that the foundation of the Church was crumbling. And now Aodh had centered and reinforced that foundation by returning it to its origins, and guaranteed the protection of the lands and peoples of the Papal States by placing them under Scotland's control. He had finally found a way to reconcile his devotion to God and his devotion to his family, and now Aodh Canmore found himself not only at peace with himself, but satisfied that he had accomplished what he'd been born to do. The nervous boy who had only wanted to retreat into the safety and comfort of the Church to escape the strange workings of his mind had grown into a capable man and loving Father, then a deadly competent Spymaster. Now at fifty years old his hair was grey and his body scarred from the vicious battle with the Hungarians, but he had never felt more content.
"Father," smiled his daughter, Joan as she joined him on the balcony looking out across the city where fireworks exploded in the air and the sounds of revelry rang up from the streets. The soldiers of Scotland now patrolled the streets of Rome, and the peoples of Rome had all ready embraced their new protectors as well as their new "secular focus". All were true Christians, but now it was Sunday that was put aside as their day to celebrate this, and they felt free on the other six days of the week to work, to run their businesses and spend time with their families,"I understand ye had good news from Uncle Domnall today?"
"Indeed, he has agreed that we have reached a new era," nodded Aodh, placing his hand on his daughter's shoulder,"Edinburgh was the Capital City of my Grandfather's Empire, and Cairo was the Capital of my Uncle and Father's Empire.... but now Rome shall be the Capital of Scotland. This is the Greatest City in the World, and it seems only fitting that it be the capital of the Greatest Empire, too."
"And what now for me, Father?" Joan asked,"Ye rule Rome now, and ye have our fine friend hiding in the shadows there to find secrets out for ye."
Eoin stepped out of the shadows onto the balcony with a respectful nod towards Joan, who smiled back at him,"I grew up with "Uncle" Nevin coming and going as he pleased, there are very few men who can hide from me."
"Or many who would want to," suggested Eoin, bowing and kissing Joan's hand, causing her to laugh and Aodh to raise an eyebrow at them both.
"So Father?" Joan asked again,"Ye have Rome, ye have returned the Pope to what ye believe his proper place in the world, and gained more for Scotland than any could have hoped for... is my usefulness at an end? Am I to marry now, and bear children and become fat and old and bored?"
Aodh smiled and linked his arm with Joan's, and Eoin did the same on her other side before all three left the balcony and moved down the corridors of the Palace.
"I love all my daughters," Aodh said with a smile,"And have three all ready who will bear me Grandchildren to dote on.... but ye Joan? Nae, nae marriage for ye, I have only one daughter who could give me Rome."
The messenger trembled as he parted the material of the tent and stepped inside, bowing low as the man seated at the small table tore at a cooked bird with his hands.
"This had better be good," snarled the man at the table,"Speak!"
"N.. News from Rome, Majesty," stuttered the messenger.
"That idiot Bulscu?" he grunted angrily,"Taking Rome without permission, killing a Pope... he'd best have married that Canmore whore by now."
"Bulscu is dead, Majesty," moaned the messenger, sinking down even lower and hunching up his head and shoulders as if expecting a blow at any moment. When silence greeted his words, the messenger continued on,"He rode out to meet Scotland and lost three thousand men to Aodh Canmore and Dougall Macdonchie......"
"...and?" demanded the man angrily, wiping his greasy fingers across his tunic but not getting up from his seat.
"...an... and Aodh Canmore has now taken control of Rome and all Papal State lands, including the holdings at Adana to the East. The Pope has retired into Saint Peter's Basilica to meditate, pray and offer weekly sermons of spiritual guidance to the Christian peoples."
More silence greeted this message, and finally the messenger could take it no more,"Majesty?"
"Out," came the hissed reply, laden with contempt,"Get out."
Almost weeping with relief, the messenger rushed out of the tent, leaving behind the man to sit brooding on this news.
"Scotland... the Canmores," grunted King Istok the Cunning, dreaded King of the Hungarian Empire,"You've just picked a fight with the wrong man."