Part 73: A Scotsman In Egypt - Chapter 72A wise man once said that war never changed.
That man had never seen an elephant with a cannon strapped to its back.
The sun had come out from behind the clouds and burned through the mist surrounding the foot of the mountains where the King of Scotland waited with his men, revealing two forces of Timurids approaching from the Northwest and the East. They numbered in the thousands, but so did Domnall Canmore's men.... but the Timurids had brought their greatest weapon, an equalizer like none other in history.
"Now, Uncle?" Edward of Shetland asked Prince Aodh Canmore.
"Nae yet, lad," replied Aodh with a strained smile,"We dinnae show our hand till the time is right.... Domnall?"
The King frowned at the Timurids approaching from the East, then nodded and barked out his orders,"Hew! Edmund! March your men and intercept the Timurids to the Northwest, hold them long enough and Angus and Dougall can return and crush them between you. Patrick, give the order on my mark to fire arrows concentrated on those elephants! Forget the men, concentrate on the elephants!"
Patrick the Chivalrous saluted his Father-in-Law and King and wheeled to give out his orders, while every other eye remained fixed not on the approaching Timurids, but the Elephants marching amongst them. As had been warned, it was one thing to be told about the elephants, and quite another to see them in person and have to face them in battle.
"NOW!" roared Domnall, and Patrick gave the order to open fire.
The battle had begun.
The influx of arrows had the desired effect, as the burning projectiles served to give the mighty beasts pause. As they stumbled to a stop and begin milling about against each other as their drivers sitting on their backs shouted and beat at them to get them moving again, Domnall prepared to take advantage.
"Send in the infantry!" he roared,"By the time those elephants are ready, I want them to have to march through their own men to get at ours!"
Aodh, Patrick and the other Generals roared out commands to their Infantry, and the armored Scottish swordsmen and pikemen eagerly charged forward in formation. The Timurid Captains snapped angrily at their own men to move forward to engage.
"We must hold them in place!" Chagurkhai grunted angrily,"Get those elephants back into formation!"
"If we put our own men in-between the Skot-tish and the Elephants, we'll have to run through our own men to get the elephants at their Khan!" warned Daidukul.
Chagurkhai turned to stare at his fellow Captain, his eyes black and unreadable.
"I fail to see what the problem is," he grunted, and returned to shouting at the elephant riders to regain control of their beasts.
To the Northwest, Hew Mar and Edmund Besat were emulating the tactics of their King, raining down flaming arrows on the Timurids' elephants to try and give the massive beasts pause.
"Let them concentrate on the beasts," sneered Onggiran to Shakrukh,"Send the cavalry onto their right flank, crush their unmounted men, let them see their own men run before our might even before we make use of the elephants."
"Damn it, this is nae working," growled Hew as he saw his Infantry being overrun by the mobile Timurids,"There's too much space for them to move, but we cannae move in and risk being run down by those blasted eleph-"
Hew's complaint was cut off as a horn suddenly sounded, and he stared in wonder as from the North rode a small force of horsemen in Scottish colors, flying under the banner of...
"Angus?" gasped Hew,"What the hell is the madman doing!?!"
Angus the Mauler rode at the head of his men, their horses exhausted from the hard ride to join the main battle, leaving behind the bulk of his unmounted forces. The brutal Scottish General grinned fiercely as he saw the Timurids had moved forward and left their elephants "unprotected" behind them.
"ELEPHANTS!" Angus screamed, letting out a howl of excitement,"ELEPHAAAAAANTS!"
The elephants bellowed in surprise as the Scottish horses filed between them, their riders slashed at the thick grey skin with their blades. Angus slammed his sword into the rump of one of the animals where its blanket of armor did not cover, and it roared angrily and lifted up onto its hind legs, sending the Timurid manning the cannon on its back flying through the air arms flailing before crashing into the ground.
"Is he mad?" gasped Edmund Besat, watching from Hew's side.
"Oh aye, quite mad, the magnificent bastard...." grinned Hew, then frowned as he saw the front line of his infantry begin to buckle,"RALLY YE DOGS! HOLD THAT LINE AND KILL THE BASTARDS!"
As the soldiers struggled to retain their footing and present a unified front before the Timurids, one elephant's panic had become contagious and spread throughout the rest of the beasts, and they ignored their drivers' plaintive cries and angry demands, running amok anywhere they could to escape the strange shiny men on the small four legged brown things rushing about between their feet.
"AYE! RUN! RUN!" howled Angus in delight, his eyes manic as he chased after the monstrosities,"I THOUGHT THESE BASTARDS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE TOU-"
And then a terrified elephant stampeded over the laughing Scottish General, trampling horse and rider beneath it.
"Angus, nae!" gasped Hew in horror as the elephant charged on past the now prone form of the Scottish General. He made to spur his horse to rush to Angus' side, but Edmund Besat's arm on his shoulder prevented him.
"We have bigger problems, Hew," warned Besat,"The Timurids have gotten their elephants back under control."
Hew turned and looked back across the field where the Scottish and Timurid forces had begun to splinter and spread out in a series of small, pitched, separate battles as part of the greater whole, and saw Besat had it right. The elephants were once more under their drivers' control, and they were being directed towards the backs of the unsuspecting Scots.
"God help us, we can only hope things are going better on the King's front," whispered Hew, and rode into the fray alongside Edmund.
On the Eastern Front, things were getting worse.
The Scottish Infantry had been carving their way through Chagurkhai and Daidukul's men while the archers maintained a steady, alternating volley of arrows on the Timurid Cavalry and their spooked elephants respectively. But familiarity bred contempt, and the training of the elephants - raised to maintain calm in battle situations - had begun to override their panic and fear, and they were moving back into formation.
"Finally!" hissed Chagurkhai angrily,"Straight through the heart of the Skot-tish to their King! I WANT THEIR KING TO BE BURIED BENEATH THE FEET OF OUR ELEPHANTS! NOW CHARGE!"
The great beasts bellowed and began to charge forward with terrifying speed, and Chagurkhai and Daidukul spurred their horses to follow along in their wake.
The elephants plowed through men and horses as if they weren't their, their massive tusks and trunks casting men bodily through the air with a quick twitch of their heads. The Scottish found their lines breached and the force of the progress of the elephants had a ripple effect back through the lines. The Timurid Cavalry rode through the same breach unmolested as the Infantry tried to recover, and Edward of Shetland turned with concern to his Great Uncle as the massive beasts were turned in the direction of the King.
"Now, Uncle?" he asked.
"Nae lad, patience," replied Aodh, showing remarkable calm,"Wait here and command the Infantry, I must ride to my Brother's aid."
Aodh spurred his horse and lead his men towards the side of the column of charging elephants, spotted by Chagurkhai who laughed in delight and peeling off his own bodyguard to ride and meet Aodh head on. The two forces of horsemen smashed into each other and man and horse alike were sent reeling from the initial shock before the battle was joined in earnest, blades swinging, blows being thrown and horses biting and kicking at each other.
And while that fight went on, the elephants continued their relentless charge directly towards King Domnall, who sat his horse alongside his son-in-law Patrick with his face seemingly fixed in iron, betraying no fear.
"So be it," Domnall grunted as the elephants approached,"Let us see the worth of these beasts then."
And with a roar, Domnall rose his sword high and led his men directly at the charging elephants, in what would surely be a desperate, suicide charge.
The men of Scotland outnumbered the Timurids by thousands, but the elephants had proved everything they were claimed to be, the great equalizer. As Edward of Shetland sat shouting orders to the recovering infantry, he cast his eye worriedly between Aodh fighting Chagurkhai's men and King Domnall charging the elephants. If Domnall fell and died... and Aodh as well.... the morale of the men would be broken, and the Timurids would have their elephants to crush and splinter any resistance that was left.
"Have we gambled too greatly?" Edward asked himself in growing horror,"Is this to be the end of Scotland?"
As battles waged on the Eastern front and Northwestern front, a lone Scottish soldier rode his horse past the bodies of dead Scotsmen, Timurids, horses and even the odd elephant here and there. He halted his horse beside the body of his General, a man he had followed since his youth in the desert city of Yerevan. Stepping down, the Scotsman took the shoulder of his General and turned him around, wanting to say his goodbye to the often brutal man who had nonetheless inspired such great loyalty.
"Goodbye, Ang-" he started, and then the dead man sat bolt upright.
"ELEPHANTS!" screamed Angus the Mauler, then smashed his fist into his soldier's face, knocking him senseless. Angus staggered up and instantly slumped against the other man's horse, fighting off dizziness then turning to glare at the dead bodies around him, and the fighting going on in the distance.
"Elephaaaaants," hissed Angus, fire in his eyes as he grabbed the saddle of the horse by his side and hauled himself up. He took another moment to fight the fresh wave of dizziness that threatened to overtake him, then spurred his horse and rode full tilt towards the nearest elephant he could see, screaming the same word over and over again.