Ceallach, the old tutor, waited in his study at Armagh fortress. He waited for a young noble of the castle, Malcolm Wallace, second son of Micheil and brother of James Wallace, Lord High Constable Of Scotland. The fire burned in the hearth as the wind battered the battlements outside.
"Ah Malcolm, you arrive. Late. As usual."
Malcolm, oblivious to his old tutor's soft rebuke, strode through the doorway and sat heavily in his place. He smiled up at his tutor and friend. "I have been hunting Ceallach. And fighting!" He laughed heartily. "Do you not think I have learned enough from you these last ten years?"
"My boy, what do you know of the world? You have never left Ireland! Fighting bandits and hunting will not prepare you for your future, for your future lies elsewhere."
Malcolm's face grew suddenly boyish as he asked "Elsewhere? Has my brother sent for me?"
"What do you know of Scoti Italia?"
"It is our portion of Italy, one we hold in defense of the Holy Church. We took it from Sicily and fight them still. My brother is there and defends Rome. As does our King, Ranald Menzies, whom they call The Killer. From the island fortress of Ajaccio we control the cities of Marseille, Milano, Genova, Firenze, Cagliari and Palma which lies off the coast of Iberia."
Malcolm rambled off the facts every young noble learned from tutors in cities and citadels throughout the empire, from the great seats of learning in Inverness, Edinburgh and Aberdeen to the rich southern cities of of London and Southampton, from the provincial backwaters of Galway and Cork to the new courts of commerce and power in Milano and Firenze.
Ceallach knew Malcolm was well versed in the goings on and politics of the empire. He was a prince of Clan Wallace, one of the great houses of Scotland. He knew how our Kings were elected and how the other great houses, Clan Buchanan, Clan Menzies, and Clan Hamilton were ultimately united in a shared hegemony of power. How much he would have to learn of the hidden struggles for power, court intrigue and corruption, remained to be seen. He was an intelligent boy though.
"Good, good. Your brother has sent word from Firenze. You are to join him there. You will leave three months hence, when the weather improves, for the fortress of Nottingham where Donald Buchanan and a small force await your command. This is the time to lay aside childish things Malcolm, your brother does not send for you lightly. We are at war and strong leadership will be required. Your brother, and your King, will have need of your martial ability."
Malcolm tried to suppress his excitement. He mastered the slowly spreading grin taking over his face and attempted a steely look. "I am ready, Ceallach."
Six months later he stood in Nottingham, the great fortress of Britain. Assembled in the court yard was his command, a highly trained force of Noble Pikemen, Noble Swordsmen and Feudal Knights. Beside him his companion, Donald Buchanan, stood stoically surveying the glittering armour and blue banners of Scotland.
"They look like an expensive bunch. Why do we need such a bodyguard? We have no enemies between us and Marseille. Does your brother think us children still Malcolm?"
The two had become close in the last few months. Both from the upper echelons of Scottish society, they knew only too well the pressure on one another and the constant need to keep up appearances.
"Who knows what The Lord High Constable of Scotland thinks Donald. He is as inscrutable as he is cantankerous... I don't think I've ever seen him smile. Grumpy old bastard!"
Only the smallest of smiles gave away the humour in his words. The bond the two young men shared was based on this mutual position. Only they among the crowd of nobility in Nottingham could ever say such words aloud, and then only to each other.
"Lets get to it. The world awaits."
They mounted their steeds and cantered through the centre of gathered nobility and peasantry, soldiers and knights. It seemed like all of Nottingham had come to see them off. These two princes of Scotland going bravely to war to defend the empire.
A cheer arose as the trumpets sounded the procession. They led the troops together, through the huge southern gate of Nottingham, and on to London.
The crossing to France had been calm and pleasant. Messengers had secured safe passage through English controlled lands and on to Marseille. The two friends were welcomed to court at Paris and enjoyed a few months being wooed and flattered by foreign nobility before moving on.
As they left Paris they reminisced about the ladies they had met and the diplomats who tried to gain influence with them.
"She was beautiful Donald. She offered me everything..."
Malcolm smiled "Everything. Riches, power. I told her I had that and more. These Sicilians do not understand loyalty it seems."
"Nor the power your family yields. Or mine. Our strength is our unity. It makes us rich and more powerful than any of these foreign dukes and princelings. Everyone thinks himself the master of his own little hamlet. We are masters of an empire!"
"You're still drunk you sot! Well maybe this will sober you up. My maleficent brother sends word. We are to move on the Sicilian mountain fortress of Lucerne."
"Now that is a sobering thought. I hear it gets cold up there."
"Colder than Inverness? I'm sure you will manage."
The winter march had indeed been hard but in 1225 they reached Lucerne and laid siege to the fortress.
That summer Sicilian reinforcements arrived and attempted to break the siege. The battle was fierce, with many casualties, but a final cavalry charge routed the enemy. As the Sicilians broke, Malcolm gave the order to chase the fleeing enemy down. They executed all prisoners.
They entered Lucerne, now undefended and seemingly a ghost town.
"They are afraid" rumbled Donald. "Word has spread of the execution".
"I had no choice, we are to give the fortress over to Prince Gilbert of France who is three months march from here. We can't have Sicilians keeping us here until next winter."
"Well, your brother will approve. Clan Wallace is getting a reputation for severity."
"Victory Or Death" replied Malcolm.
"And I don't think I could stand another bloody winter here" noted Donald, "My cock nearly froze off the last time."