Guest update by AlexanderPrimus!
Are there Scots at Scarborough Faire?
Baby Kings grow stronger with time.
Remember that when French foes are daring,
Then with blood they’ll pay for their crimes.
- Traditional 13th Century Yorkshire Folksong
Hammer of the Scots
21 August 1271
Near Scarborough, Yorkshire
A few scattered rays of sunshine broke through the clouds as the heavy rain gave way to a lighter mist. From his vantage point atop a craggy moor, Antemios Komnenos observed the teeming mass of humanity in the valley below with a customarily lugubrious air.
“We’re all doomed,” he breathed to himself.
The local English folk were already calling the place “Comyn Moor,” and with good reason. It had been six weeks since Antemios had first ordered the Scottish host to set up their camp atop the wettest, rockiest hill in all of the North Yorkshire Downs, and four and a half since the Scarborough townsfolk had taken pity and invited the troops to stay within their palisade. “That’s the worst campsite in all of Northumbria!” they had blustered. In fact, Antemios had been counting on it.
The fact that Comyn Moor was the most unpleasant spot in the county was the only hope any of them had of living through the night. Beyond that, this muddy little English hill was the only hope Scotland had of maintaining its own independent monarchy, let alone its empire.
“My Laird Comyn!” called a page. All of the Scots’ messages were carried by fleet-footed young boys, and something about the timbre of their shrill voices grated on Antemios’ nerves.
Antemios sighed. In all his years in Scotland he had never been able to break the Scots’ profane habit of calling him “Comyn,” as if he were just another of their boorish Norman-imported aristocrats. At least he had managed to get them to palette “Anthemy” instead of the endlessly irritable Andrew. How crass these people were! It was an exquisitely bitter irony that he had had to spend most of his illustrious career defending them.
“Yes?” he groaned, “What is it this time?”
“It is Earl William himself!” answered the young messenger, “He brings good tidings! The reinforcements have arrived at last!”
“Tell him I’ll meet him at my tent,” Antemios answered curtly.
William the Bruce was not a man to be trifled with. Despite possessing the lofty titles of Earl of Carrick, Fifth Lord of Annandale and Earl Marshal of Scotland, he had demonstrated his proclivity for engaging in unadulterated violence on numerous occasions. Once, when a rival of his became the unfortunate target of a peasant revolt, Bruce had actually joined in the scrum with the townsfolk, wading into the street and personally braining his ignoble foe with a handaxe!
He was arrogant, brash, and overconfident, even for a Scot. And of course, these qualities made him an ideal son-in-law for the Lord Protector of Scotland. Antemios’ own sons were quite shrewd—proper Romans in their own right even—but they lacked the Bruce’s brutish muscle and forceful manner. Best of all, he was a perfect match for Antemios’ daughter Basilea, a real firebrand if ever there was one. The youngest of Antemios’ children, she had no memory of the City at all, only this rough northern life.
She was back at Castle Stirling with her charge: the King himself. The illustrious Constantine IV was a mere babe in arms, scarcely bigger than Basilea had been when their family had first come to this god-forsaken land. Yet despite the boy’s age, everything Antemios had built in the last two decades now depended on him. The chroniclers could not stop gushing about the boy: descended from Alfred the Great, Kenneth MacAlpin, heir of both Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror. The way they simpered about how this “golden” infant would change the world made Antemios want to wretch.
And that wasn’t the worst of it; Antemios was the custodian of Scotland’s greatest secret. Before his accidental death during a freak storm, King Duncan had actually been preparing to proclaim himself the High King of Britain. Not just the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, but the English too, all those who were not in subjection to the French. But now Duncan was gone, and his tiny grandson was the only surviving heir to his dream, a dream that Antemios was expected to bring to fruition for him.
But such things needed to wait for another day. The Bruce was waiting for him with a veritable throng of rough-looking Scots, including a gigantic fellow with a nasty-looking two-handed sword slung on his back.
“Ah, greetings Earl William!” said Antemios, feigning a pleasant expression, “Well met. And who are these fine fellows you’ve brought with you?”
“Surely yer Lairdship knows Sir Robert Wallace of Elderslie?” Bruce indicated the giant with the claymore, “The commander of our brave boys down in the schiltroms?”
“No, I don’t think I’d forget a man of his… stature.”
“Aye, true enough. And these others be Chief Mackenzie, there’s Angus Oz o’ the Isles, Jock Lennox, Menteith, that’s Red Douglas, and of course everybody knows Black Douglas—“
“Yes, yes, very good,” interrupted Antemios, “All worthy gentlemen, I’m sure. But one question remains unasked: why have you brought them here to me?”
“Now why would yer Lairdship be asking such a thing?” Bruce looked confused, “Surely ye’ ken that ‘tis customary to have a council o’ war before each and every great battle?”
“Indeed…” Antemios groaned. He had hoped that the Scots would put off their usual blustering and leave the planning to him while they did all the grunt work. It was a fool’s hope. “Very well. Get on with it then.”
Wallace spread a large leather map across the table while the Bruce grabbed a handful of chessmen from Antemios’ small desk.
“This is our camp,” said Bruce, placing a white rook on the map, “And here’s where the men are arrayed for battle. These are the schiltroms.” He placed three pawns in front of the rook. “Mostly pikemen, some highlanders for good measure wi’ their big choppers.”
“Aye,” growled Wallace in eager affirmation.
“Here are the Welsh bairns on the flanks wi’ their bows,” continued the Bruce, placing an extra pawn on either side of the three schiltroms. “The French’ll be down here in the field.” He added several black knights and pawns to the map, in front of the white pieces, “An’ our few knights are in reserve, waitin’ for the best opportunity to charge and catch their king unawares.” He added a single white knight between the rook and the pawns.
“Leave the Kaeng o’ France tae me!” barked Wallace, “I’ll rep off his head and spet down his naeck!”
“I don’t doubt it,” Antemios sniffed.
“An’ wha’ o’ th’ Irish?” asked the man called the Black Douglas. His thick brogue was nearly unintelligible to Antemios, even after enduring so many years in Scotland.
“Och aye!” laughed Bruce, “Cannae forget them!” He picked up a bishop and laid it on its side in front of the white pawns. “They’ve got their wee darts and their javelins to throw, and then they run an’ hide behind the rest of us!” He moved the recumbent bishop behind the pawns.
“It does nae sit right wi’ me,” snarled Wallace, “Wi’ my front to the French an’ my back to th’ Irish.”
“Never mind that!” snapped Antemios, “You’ve forgotten the most important parts, Bruce! Please tell me that you’ve done as I’ve asked.” He put a weary hand to his temples.
“I dinnae ken whit ye mean!” said Bruce, confused and slightly offended that Antemios would criticize him in front of his captains.
“The pits in the field, the wooden stakes, the hidden billmen, the special banner—“
“Bah,” spat the Bruce, “We dug yer pits. The men took care o’ that days ago.”
Antemios breathed a sigh of relief. He needed the pits to thin the numbers of the French charge. Horses with broken legs were horses that couldn’t bring sharp pointy death bearing down on the men in the form of French lances.
“An’ the Welshies take their precious stakes where e’er they go,” continued Bruce, “They’ll ‘ave ‘em for the battle. As for the others—“
“The English billmen,” pressed Antemios. Local levies armed with poleaxes and billhooks had been culled from the Yorkshire villages in the preceding months to join the Scots’ army.
“Why do we need pansy, wood-headed Anglishmen in our schiltroms?” interjected Wallace angrily. “My claymore’s good enough an’ better tae send the French screamin’ down tae hell! We’ve Irish already, we dinnae need the Anglish too!”
“I’ve said this a hundred times,” moaned Antemios, “The Englishmen are armed with bills. That’s why they’re billmen. Once your pikes knock the French knights off their horses, the billmen reach underneath with their hooks and find the gaps in their armor to finish off the dismounted knights while they’re still vulnerable.”
“’Tis a coward who fears to face his foe head on—“ began Wallace.
“Enough!” barked Antemios, his voice growing hoarse from exertion, “Save it for the enemy. Earl Bruce, you’ve said nothing of the banner I commissioned…”
“Heh, that’s done too,” said Bruce, “But I dinnae see what good it’ll do us.”
“Just wait and see,” Antemios said slyly, “If everything goes according to plan, some of us might actually live through the night.”
It was still raining. Hugues Louis Auguste Capet, King of both France and England and self-proclaimed Defender of the Faith, hated rain. It made him wet. He would gladly have abandoned these inhospitable northern lands to their miserable inhabitants were it not for the single fact that Hugues Capet never willing gave up anything.
“…Most of their army is divided into three main bodies of spearmen,” Gervais le Posthume was saying. Hugues’ secretary was a painfully thin little person with ink-blackened fingers and a perpetually solemn expression, and despite his erudition the King rarely paid any heed to the man.
“And who commands those vermin?” asked Hugues, the constant clinking of the rain on his pauldrons making him more irritable than usual.
“Zey say it is le sénéchal ‘imself,” answered Abbé Flambert, the King’s personal chaplain, “Antoine Comnens.”
“A weak, Greek fool,” pronounced Hugues, “I doubt he will present much of a difficulty. Now, how to deal with this pathetic little army of his?”
“Bah!” scoffed Flambert, “Just starve ze little pigs. Zey are not worth ze effort of spilling zheir blood!”
“Ehh… I do not think we can simply starve them out,” interjected Gilles du Porc, the Constable of France, “Their lines of supply are too well established, and their skirmishers too skilled.”
"Then we shall just have to give them the point of the lance ourselves!" shouted Hugues. This was more or less eventually how the King decided to deal with all of his problems.
"Your Majesty," replied Gervais anxiously, "Surely we ought to take a more rational course in this matter? Do you not think we might at least call up some additional reserves before dashing away like this?"
"WHAT?!" roared the French King suddenly, "Do you think me some unweaned JACKANAPES that must call for his nursemaid’s hand before he heads to the garderobe?”
“B-but your majesty,” sputtered Gervais, “Surely it would be more prudent to--”
Ignoring his minister’s words, Hugues continued with his tirade. “I have been off the teat for over thirty years, man! Would you coddle me back to my cradle?”
“N-no, sire, of course not!” pleaded Gervais, looking queasy, “Please, I was only trying to--“
“No…” an unholy gleam entered Hugues’ eyes, “I see what it is. You think me a dotard! Awaiting an early death! Is THAT it?! You wish me DEAD?!!”
Sweat running down his face, Gervais could only shake his head.
The King was red in the face, “Yes, I see the truth of it now! I am but a simpering WEAKLING in your eyes! With one foot in the womb and the OTHER IN THE GRAVE!”
Gervais’ eyes bulged in terror as King Hugues grabbed him by the collar.
“I grow weary of your insolence,” Hugues’ voice grew surprisingly, dangerously calm, “I’m the King of France, for God’s sake, and I will not be defied like this. I’ve been patient with you, but I’ve put up with it for long enough.”
Almost effortlessly, he lifted the trembling courtier into the air.
“A man does well…” whispered Hugues, his eyes drawing narrow, “…WHEN HE RIDS HIMSELF OF A TURD!”
Using all his strength, the brawny king launched the unfortunate Gervais as far as he could into the air, as if the man were nothing but a child’s ragdoll.
“Now, if there are no other objections?” said Hugues, as if nothing had happened. His remaining courtiers shook their heads nervously.
A few yards away, the bruised and bloody Gervais moaned in pain.
“Will somebody clean up that mess?” the French King called over his shoulder, but Gervais was already staggering to his feet and limping back. This sort of thing was a common occurrence in the court of King Hugues.
“Mon roi!” cried another of Hugues’ cronies, “Qu'est-ce que c'est?” The man pointed obliquely towards the the little craggy hill where the enemy encampment was perched. The Scots had just unfurled an enormous banner with the words “VOTRA MARE EYE OON SHEEN” crudely scrawled upon it in large uncial script.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Constable Gilles.
“Ze meaning is plain to be seen for zhose of us ‘oo can read,” sneered Abbé Flambert, “Votre mère est une chienne. Zey are saying the king’s mother, she is a—“
“WHAT?!” roared Hugues. “How dare they?! Bring me my best horse! Bring me Martel!"
Two grooms and a squire rushed off immediately to do his bidding, while a crowd of soldiers began to gather. The King’s rages were quickly becoming a popular blood-sport for interested spectators, always from a safe distance of course.
This time Hugues took notice of the masses. “Let BLOOD be your motto!” he encouraged those closest to him, “I want to see blood, I want to bathe in their blood, I want to bathe in their blood for a WEEK! Stab them, cut them, poke at their guts with your spears!”
“We will kill them for your, mon roi!” shouted one zealous knight.
“YES! Do that too!” answered the King, “And MORE! You must first…” He broke off mid-sentence, distracted by his servants, who were just barely returning with his equipment.
“Ah, MARTEL!” gushed Hugues, “It is so good to see you again, my old friend! We shall vanquish a thousand Scotsmen today, you and I!” Walking right past the confused groom who was waiting with his handsome black destrier, the King greedily snatched a gigantic iron maul out of the hands of his squire, who could barely lift the weapon as it was. Bringing it to his lips, Hugues gently kissed the enormous warhammer.
“Now for my horse! Where is my horse?” Hugues said absently, “Ah yes…” Knocking the poor groom to the ground to use him as a stepping stool, the King roughly hoisted himself into the saddle.
“TO BATTLE, MARTEL!” he bellowed, “VICTORY AND VENGEANCE!”
All was deathly silent atop the summit of the moor. Antemios’ aides knew better than to disturb him while he was obviously hatching a plan. It had been hours since the French had established their camp down in the plain, and still they had not moved to attack the Scots and their allies. What were they waiting for?
The Lord High Steward of Scotland paced back and forth on his familiar rocky perch. His own camp was long since deserted, the men now huddled in the wide, bristling schiltroms or crouched behind vast forests of wooden stakes.
Antemios’ contemplation was broken by the sudden approach of a page. He really needed to find someone else to deliver his messages.
“My laird!” cried the boy, “The Norsemen have landed, twenty miles to the north!”
“Thank God!” said Antemios, “It’s about time they arrived. Send a messenger telling them we need their aid at once! They should march down the coastal road! That’ll put them behind the French just like we—”
“My laird? They have sent an emissary of their own… he says he must present you with their demands.”
“Demands? What nonsense is this that you are babbling about?”
A heavy-set man with a long, braided beard stepped forward, callously shoving the messenger boy aside. He neither bowed nor gave greeting of any kind. For a moment, the large fellow simply looked the diminutive Antemios up and down. When the intimidating Northman spoke at last, his voice had a harsh, grating quality, like waves crashing over sharp rocks.
“His Greatness, de Kejsar of Åll de North demands dat yöu submit yöurself and åll your stjevårdship to him, de rightful and true sovereign of dis insignificant little realm. Dis very day!”
“What?” Antemios was flabbergasted. “Kneel to the King of Sweden?”
“De Kejsar of Åll de North,” corrected the tall Scandinavian envoy. “In addition, as payment for de continued maintenance of yöur native dynasty under his rule, yöur nobles must pay de sum of… vone hundred tousand golden bezants.”
“The-the Kejsar?” The King of Sweden is claiming to be an Emperor?” stammered Antemios, “Wait—Did you say one hundred thousand? In gold?” There wasn’t that much gold in all of Britain, and King Magnus knew it!
“In addition to de fifty tousand dat yöu yöurself must pay if yöu vish to remain in office as High Stjevard for his Magnitude.”
Antemios’ jaw dropped.
“My Laird Comyn!” shouted yet another messenger.
Antemios seemed not to hear. “The Norse… have betrayed me?” he spluttered. No amount of grappa in the world could make this problem go away.
“My laird? I bring urgent news!” persisted the page.
“YES?!” snapped Antemios, as if waking out of a stupor, “What? What is it now?”
“The French have begun their advance!”
Casting his gaze downward to the battlefield, Antemios could only see a tremendous cloud of dust rising from the plain. Then, as wider and wider rays of sunlight continued to break through the clouds, he thought he saw the silver gleam of armor—the armor of ten thousand galloping French knights.