Part 69: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 68In the great spired palace of Delhi, Timur the Pious entered the great hall through massive wooden doors that slammed shut behind him. His footsteps echoed loudly against the high ceiling and walls, announcing his approach, though of course he was expected, after all he had been summoned.
The massive room had once been the harem of an Indian Prince, but the man who currently ruled Delhi had no interest in such activities. Timur respected this, even though his leader gambled and drank, they were forgivable transactions considering his restraint in other areas. His leader believed himself to be "The Scourge of God", and it was his dream to spread the word of God throughout the world.... by whatever force necessary. He seemed to be divinely blessed too, considering the way he had taken the splintered, fractured realms once united under Genghis Khan and knitted them back together. He had destroyed the Golden Horde and conquered the lands of India, gaining riches beyond imagining for his people and dimming the memory of their past humiliations.
But Timur the Lame - for whom Timur the Pious was named - continued to look West, remembering that the greatest armies of the Horde under their greatest Warlords since Genghis Khan had traveled there and been utterly destroyed, causing the inevitable collapse of the Empire the Horde had built.
Now Timur the Pious approached the small, simple table near one of the great open windows that allowed air to cool the heat of the day. His leader sat on one table carefully considering the chessboard before him, and a white-skinned stranger sat on the other side, seemingly more interested in the Timurid Leader than the pieces on the board. Finally "Timur-i-Lenk" made his move, capturing the white pawn of his opponent and finally turning his attention to his young namesake, who had stood respectfully waiting.
"Tell me what you know of the Skot-tish, Timur," Timur-i-Lenk spoke, in lieu of his normally warm greeting.
Timur was momentarily surprised, eying the stranger and raising an eyebrow to his Khan. Timur nodded, indicating it was safe to speak, and Timur began a brief recitation of his knowledge of a people who fascinated him but who remained little more than legends, like the mysterious almond-eyed people to the East rumored to live behind a Great Wall that stretched the length of the world.
"The Skot-tish are a race of warriors, not unlike The Horde," he began,"White skinned and red haired, they sing as they fight and do not know fear. They are led by a dynasty of Khans who take the name Kanmor, and the mightiest of them all was Id-War, who bested Subutai the Merciless in personal combat before calling them a fresh Horde of Skot-tish to wipe out the last of Subutai's army. Id-War died and Dom-Nal took his place as Kanmor Khan, and legend says he could not be killed by blades, that he rode alone into the heart of the Horde itself and rode out the other side untouched, and that he pointed his finger at the last true Warlord of The Horde - Orda - and caused his heart to explode. The Horde was utterly destroyed, and those few who escaped and returned to our lands despaired, and the lands of the Horde were divided up and failed one after the other, until Timur-i-Lenk drew them back together as one and returned pride to The Horde."
Timur-i-Lenk smiled at the compliment, but the white-skinned stranger simply smirked and moved his chess piece, putting Timur-i-Lenk's King in check. Timur-i-Lenk scowled angrily and moved a piece to protect his King, then looked back up at Timur,"You have told me what any Persian knows, now tell me what you know of the Skot-tish, of their lands and their customs, tell me the things you know that only the greatest of our academics know."
As usual, Timur-i-Lenk had used the term "Persian" to describe his people, even though most of those people proudly called themselves Timurid. A man of God did not glory himself, and again Timur felt a wave of pride and love for the man he'd been named for, before noticing that NOW the stranger had started paying attention, even if he was pretending not to.
"The Skot-tish come from a land of ice where the sun never shines, but Id-War and his brother Id-Mun defied their father and conquered the desert lands of Egypt. Like Genghis before them, they fueled an Empire on conquest, and spread their pagan religion to the lands they conquered. They worship the sun, and believe that its rising and setting represents a covenant between them and God of forgiveness and rebirth into paradise. Id-Mun was wise and cold, and he spied on his own people to learn their secrets, and was considered a Soothsayer. He spread rumor that Id-War was The Great Satan to spread fear of the man both amongst their people and their enemies. Id-war was a non-believer, he made only pretense of worshipping the sun, and used its Holy Men to further his own purposes. The Skot-tish excelled and flourished under the brothers, and when their men do not fight, they are drinking, or whoring, or fighting amongst themselves. They are a race of ill-tempered, arrogant infidels who know no fear."
"My goodness me," said the stranger with a strange accent unlike any Timur had heard before,"You really are an ignorant bastard, aren't you."
"HOW DA-" started Timur in fury, stepping towards the smirking stranger. But Timur-i-Lenk held up a hand and stopped him, shaking his head.
"You will learn to swallow your pride, my namesake," Timur-i-Lenk said,"And in return I shall grant you the greatest honor any has ever known. You will learn from this man, who has much to teach you, and he will help you achieve a goal above and beyond anything I have, or even Genghis Khan before me."
Timur's eyes widened at both the honor and the unexpected praise, while the stranger continued to smirk before turning back and placing Timur-i-Lenk's King back into check.
"Aye lad," said the stranger - James Bunnok, as Timur would soon learn,"Together, ye and me are going to destroy the Scottish Empire."
Over the next year, Timur learnt much about Scotland and Bunnok in turn learnt much about the Timurids. He was particularly interested in the fact that Timur-i-Lenk would not let anyone call him anything more than Emir, and that technically speaking he served a "Khan" who was ruler of the new Horde in name only - a near middle-aged incompetent who had spent his life living in luxury and never experienced a day of combat in his life. This "Khan" and his younger brother were the mere figureheads of an Empire ruled by Timur-i-Lenk, who in turn was grooming his namesake Timur and his fellow Warlords to take control of the Persian Empire when Timur-i-Lenk died. Bunnok was particularly interested in the fact that this young group of Warlords were all highly religious, forwent gambling, drinking and womanizing and apparently released their tensions and stresses in battle, making them particularly focused and disciplined when not at war, and particularly vicious and brutal when they were.
Bunnok learnt that Timur enjoyed hearing tales of the misfortune and fall of the mighty, and correctly guessed that it was due to his childhood growing up in a fractured, once mighty Empire that was responsible. Timur learnt that Bunnok harbored deep resentment for not being as appreciated as he believed he should be, and that he'd betrayed Scotland and gone over to the Hungarians after the death of his mentor - a man named Nevin of Shetland - at which point Aodh Canmore had placed a different man - Eoin Makartane - as head of Scotland's deadly Spy Ring. Bunnok also learned that Timur was a supremacist, and believed that anyone neither Muslim or Persian was worthy of living. In reaction to this, Bunnok made himself invaluable to Timur and a favorite of Timur-i-Lenk, teaching the latter new chess techniques and getting the former addicted to his tales of the Scottish Empire... and learning ways to draw them out so Timur needed him around to hear more. Slowly, over the weeks and months that followed, they became something akin to friends, though Bunnok correctly suspected that Timur considered him more of a favored pet, while Timur correctly suspected that Bunnok found the motives and aspirations of Timur and his fellow pious Warlords amusing, and gave them assistance only because he had nowhere else to go.
Now, as they moved down from the high mountain passes, Timur was seeking once more to get more stories from Bunnok, demanding them in fact as he pointed out that as they moved into Scottish lands, he had to know everything about his enemy.
"You have told me in great depth the history of the Scottish Empire, from the voyage of Edward and Edmund, through to their deaths and the rise of Domnall Canmore," Timur was complaining,"You have told me how Domnall died, and his greatest General fell shortly after.... but all that was over a decade ago, and you have long insinuated that Scotland has fallen from a great height, but even the death of a great King and great General does not explain why. So now you will tell me everything, all of the details, it is now a matter of necessity."
Bunnok listened respectfully enough, though his eyes sparkled with amusement as Timur's demands became more strident, and finally he relented.
"Ye would ken the current state of the Scottish Empire?" he asked,"Ye would hear of how Aodh Canmore struggled to hold together a Nation on the brink of revolt? Of the riots in Alexandria? Or the rebellion of Baghdad? Jerusalem? Edessa? Arguin? Of the declaration of War not just with Hungary and Poland, but with Portugal and the Holy Roman Empire? Of the extermination of Arguin? Of the Great Drowning of Men that wiped out thousands?"
"Yes, yesss!" hissed Timur,"Tell me! How did those things happen? How did Aodh Canmore, a man you told me was prepared for all things at all times allow things to become so bad?"
"Apart from the storm," grinned Bunnok,"The blame can be laid squarely on the shoulders of Hew Mar."
"Hew Mar? The captured Scottish General? Explain!" demanded Timur.
"Oh I shall, I promise ye," chuckled Bunnok,"But first, would ye nae like to hear how Roy Macgoulchane rescued Domnall Canmore?"
The Rescue of Domnall Canmore
"Bring my brother home, Roy."
The words of Aodh Canmore echoed in Roy Macgoulchane's head as he sat at the head of the large army outside the walls of Constantinople. Aodh had been rocked by the shock of Domnall's defeat at Istok's hands, the death of Angus the Mauler and the capture of Hew by the treacherous Polish. Roy knew that the Scottish men under his command were all just as eager as him to not only take their revenge upon the Hungarians, but prove to the world that the Scottish were not a spent force.
What worried him were the Flagellants.
The Pope had delivered a blistering message to the pilgrims who now flocked regularly to Rome to hear him speak, denouncing the Hungarians as blasphemers and heretics. He had announced their excommunication and declared a Holy Crusade against Istok at Constantinople, and despite Aodh's preference for the Pope to stay out of the secular world, he leapt at the endorsement to put out a call for volunteers to come and swell the numbers of the Scottish Army.
Roy Macgoulchane had been tasked with leaded the army that answered the call, and been alarmed to discover it was made up primarily of flagellants. The religious fanatics were disciplined enough, but eerily silent, not interested in the camaraderie of camp life, and their self-mortification and glassy eyed stares were disquieting for the other men.
But Macgoulchane had a job to do, a Canmore to rescue and a "friend" to avenge. So, as he had all of his life, he made do with the tools at his disposal. He stared now at Istok standing on the walls, and listened to the jeers and taunts coming from the Hungarian King and his men.
"Have ye come to take Domnall Canmore home?" laughed Istok,"Or to join him? We drink together each night in my study, and I tell him how I plan to destroy everything he and his family worked so hard to build.... maybe you will drink with us from now on?"
"I want the gate to the city destroyed on my command," Macgoulchane ordered his Second, ignoring the taunting,"Send the flagellants in first, then follow up with the rest of the men, I want the fanatics to swamp Istok's men so they can do nae but fight them, rather than prepare a counter-attack."
"Or will ye accept the challenge ye cowardly King finally found the gumption to answer?" called Istok, still laughing,"And face me man to man, and see if there is at least one Scotsman with a set of balls in ye pathetic "Crusade"."
"I've had enough of hearing that voice," grunted Roy,"OPEN FIRE ON THE GATE!"
Pushing through the shattered gates, the flagellants crashed into the first line of Hungarian defense and swamped over them. They did not ignore the pain and agony of the Hungarian swords and axes slashing into them, rather they exulted in the pain, welcoming each blow as a just punishment for their sins both real and imagined. In pain they found God, and they returned the "favor" by dishing out just as much if not more to their enemies. As they swamped and stabbed and tore through the Hungarians, the Scottish Infantry rushed through the gates and bypassed the fighting, heading directly for an oncoming unit of men that Istok had held aside, having predicted Roy's initial strategy. Seeing the Scottish coming for them, the Hungarians realized their surprise had been ruined and turned to retreat to the defensive safety of the City Square, inside which Istok was cursing as he realized that Roy was smarter than he'd given him credit for.
"Very well," he muttered,"Let's see how they fare against me, then."
"Sir, King Istok is leading the defense of the City Square," Roy's Second reported,"He is successfully holding back the Infantry."
"And the flagellants?" asked Roy.
"They have... finished.... with the Hungarian Infantry," reported the Second, gulping nervously as he remembered the sight.
"Send them into the square against Istok," Roy ordered.
"Yes sir.... in what formation? From what direction?"
"Hmm?" grunted Roy, looking annoyed,"Don't try to direct them man, they're the rabid hounds of God. You simply point them in a direction and let them off the leash... let's see Istok find a counter-strategy to religious fanaticism, send them all at Istok, all of them, all at once."
Istok snarled angrily as he watched the flagellants roll in like a tide, swarming over his men with no regard for their own safety. He cast about with his sword, quickly learning that it was not enough to simply cripple the insane hooded men, because even then they would still come after you. Instead, each blow was specifically designed to kill, as he decapitated heads, stopped hearts with hard lunges of his sword or crushed the life from lungs with the hooves of his horse. But as the trial of bodies behind him grew, so did the unshakeable trail of their living companions, all screaming for his blood, growing closer and closer as they hemmed him in. They weren't individuals any longer, they were a mob acting under a hive mind, a dark blob with hundreds of legs and arms and no faces - a foe that he could not fight one on one, a foe he could not hope to defeat.
As they dragged him from his horse and ripped away his armor, as they tore his body limb from limb in their howling, fanatical fury, Istok had time for a final emotion, one alien to him for most of his life, apart from that brief moment when he'd thought Domnall Canmore had him, here in this very square.
King Istok of Hungary felt fear.
As the men cheered - including the flagellants who were falling to their knees and crying out in joy to God for granting them victory - Roy Macgoulchane rode past them and straight to the palace of Hungary with his bodyguard. What few soldiers had been left to guard it had run the moment news of Istok's death had reached them, and Roy went unchallenged as he dismounted, charged through the massive doors and grabbed a terrified servant, demanding directions to Istok's study. The weeping man cried out directions and Roy tossed him aside, striding down the halls, up stairs, through corridors to the door at last, in which Roy knew Domnall Canmore could be found. A member of his bodyguard shattered the lock on the study with a mace and kicked the door in, and Roy shoved his way in, eyes instantly moving to the great oaken desk, and found himself face to face with Domnall Canmore at last.
"Ach, ye deserved better than this," sighed Roy, lifting the skull of the Scottish King from the desk. The top of the skull had been cut away and the interior coated to allow it to hold liquid. Istok had taken great delight in drinking "with" Domnall each night, a final humiliation that Aodh Canmore had been unable to accept. Roy settled down behind the desk and sighed, holding Domnall's skull in his hand and staring sadly at it, before turning to look at another skull that also graced the surface of the desk. This one was cracked and slashed in places, with half the jaw missing, and had apparently been used by Istok to hold quills and papers for his correspondence,"And ye deserved better too, Angus. Mad bastard that ye may have been, ye deserved better."
Roy Macgoulchane had "rescued" Domnall Canmore, and now he meant to see to it that his remains were returned to Cairo to be buried in the chamber of the Great Pyramid that held the bodies of Edward and Edmund and the ashes of Nectan.
Domnall would make the trip, but Roy would never see Cairo again.
"And now ye ken why I traveled East," Bunnok said after a moment of silence,"I served Istok in secret, and had all ready fled Poland because Zygmunt would be enraged when he learned I had lied to him. I could nae return to Scotland because my part in things would soon become apparent, and with Istok dead, how could I convince the new Hungarian King I had served his predecessor? So I traveled East, into a seemingly endless desert, following rumor and talk of far distant cities beyond the accepted boundaries of the world."
"And yet you end your "explanation" with another mystery, these words of Roy never seeing Cairo again," grunted Timur, affecting disdain even though he'd clearly been fascinated by the tale of the "rescue" of Domnall,"Do you think I will let you string me along any further? Soon we will cross the border into Scottish lands an-"
"We are in Scotland now," interrupted Bunnok smoothly, and Timur blinked in surprise even as they continued along on horseback at the head of the seemingly endless line of 9000 Timurids,"We passed over what is technically the border five minutes ago."
"Then we have arrived at last," grinned Timur,"How long will we have to go before we find an army to destroy?"
"Perhaps another day's ride before our presence is noted, another three days for them to mobilize, and another day for our troops to meet," mused Bunnok,"We're still in the mountains, we have days of desert crossing ahead of us yet."
"The Timurids are no strangers to the desert," snapped Timur,"We will make fast progress. And so will you, tell me now how Aodh Canmore allowed his grasp on the Empire to loosen; tell me how Scotland found itself at war with Portugal and the Roman Empire... tell me why Hew Mar is to blame."
Bunnok grinned, and bowed theatrically, before launching into the tale of....
The Ransom of Hew Mar
Directly halfway between the Polish City of Smolensk and Scottish City of Krakow, one hundred Scottish soldiers waited alongside a very nervous Roy of Orkney, who had come to pay the ransom for the return of the captured General, Hew Mar.
Finally the Polish arrived, in similar numbers to the Scottish, horses drawing a cart in which stood a tied up man with a sack over his head. Roy let a low curse out under his breath and rode his horse slowly forward, leaving his men behind, though in the trees archers crouched hidden, arrows trained on the Polish opposite in case they broke their word of a safe meeting. The Polish Captain who had been charged with transporting Hew Mar pulled him roughly off of the cart and shoved him forward, Mar almost tripping and having to be roughly pulled upright. As he and the Polish Captain approached the Scottish Lord, Roy noted the odd shuffle in Hew's walk, which not even his bonds could be completely responsible for.
Reaching the centre of the gap between the Scottish and Polish, Roy waited patiently as the Polish Captain removed the sack from Hew's head, revealing the Scottish General was standing weaving, eyes rolled back in his head and mouth hanging open.
"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Roy.
"He did not take kindly to being detained," chuckled the Polish Captain, and Roy noticed his unshaven state, his unpolished armor and almost indifferent gait for the first time. He noted that the Polish soldiers in the distance behind him were similarly slovenly, and raised an eyebrow, surprised to see such ill-discipline,"We had to drug him, he'll recover fully in a day or so."
Roy frowned, then lifted the heavy sacks of money laid over the back of the saddle of his horse, tossing them to the ground in front of the Pole.
"The ransom," he snapped,"Take it and get out of my sight."
The Pole grinned and hauled the sacks of money up, carrying them back to his men and crying out in triumph, the men laughing and gathering around to slap him on the back and offer congratulations. As Roy dismounted and guided the stumbling Hew back to the Scottish men, he heard the Poles talking about finding the nearest tavern and drinking it dry, and was shocked by their words. The money should surely be going to their King, what in the world was wrong with them, everything about this screamed that something was wrong.
But despite his instincts screaming that something was off, they were able to mount up Hew and tie him to his saddle and ride away without incident. Despite this, the longer they rode and the closer they grew to Krakow, the more Roy's concern grew. Something was wrong, he could feel it, and he just did not understand what it could be.
They stopped for the night and Hew fell instantly to sleep the moment he was laid on the ground, having said nothing throughout the day. Roy wondered what drug they had given him to put him into such a state, and hoped that the next morning would find him better. The next day, however, Hew could not be roused from sleep, and ended up being slung over the back of a horse and tied in place as they rode on towards Krakow. Finally, as the sun was setting behind them, the city came into sight, and in the early evening they rode through the city gates, and almost as if returning to a Scottish City had registered with him, Hew Mar woke from his slumber.
"What is this?" he rasped through a hoarse throat and swollen tongue,"Where am I?"
"Krakow, Lord Mar," spoke Roy respectfully,"We have returned ye to Scottish lands."
Hew stared at him for a moment, and then his eyes widened in horror and he began thrashing about on the back of the horse, crying out to be cut free. Roy was shocked by the sudden outburst, and ordered the soldiers to cut him free, looking about nervously as the Guards on the gate stared on and people moving through the streets began to gather around the scene. Hew slipped free of the horse's back as his bonds were cut and immediately had to be restrained as he screamed nonsense, shouting that "it was everywhere" and that "they wanted to bring us all down with them," and he had to "get out of here, he would kill them all!"
"Mar, compose yeself!" snapped Roy angrily,"There are people watching, show some dignity!"
For the first time, Hew seemed to notice all of the people gathered around, and all the fight seemed to go out of him as he slumped in the restraining arms of the Scottish soldiers.
"Damn them," Hew muttered miserably,"They've done it, they've used me as a weapon the bastards... we're all dead men, dead men."
"What are ye talking about, Mar?" demanded Roy,"Start making sense, man!"
"Poland is dying," Mar moaned, eyes huge as they stared up at Roy,"Bodies line the streets and the people are half mad from paranoia, lack of food and the loss of most of the people who run their cities on every level.... a Great Mortality has struck Poland, The Black Plague is killing thousands and now they have used me to spread it to Scotland.... we are all dead men... WE ARE ALL DEAD MEN!"
And Roy realized at last why the Polish soldiers had been so ill-disciplined and claimed to be spending all of the ransom money, they had been dead men walking themselves, plague bearers carrying a human weapon to strike against a mighty foe before going to overindulge in life's pleasures before their own inevitable death.
The Great Mortality had arrived in Scotland.