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Chapter 1

An Intruder Approaches!

I'm exhausted. And grateful to be here safe in my room, able to write about the day's adventures. Only hours ago, it crossed my mind that I might never see this room again!

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The day began as any autumn morning might. Looking out from the west tower while on my way to the Great Hall, I could see thick fog filling the valley and, to my left, light frost clinging to the drawbridge. I distinctly remember looking north across the checkerboard pattern of harvested fields and thinking about how peaceful the past few years have been.

But before the sun had a chance to melt the frost, the entire castle was suddenly jolted by loud pounding on the main gate. The posted sentry recognized the frantic caller as Daniel, the trainer of our hunting falcons and a man usually not known for showing such excitement.

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I turned the corner in time to hear his cause of alarm -- "I was heading toward the north wood to hunt when I saw him! Thought he was a deer at first. But when I got closer I saw he was a soldier -- from Blanco's army! He's definitely headed this way!"

The thought of a possible invasion by King Blanco's infamous White Army seemed far fetched. It made my stomach turn all the same. I had no doubt that the nickname Bully Blanco was well deserved.

Careful use of the short time available was going to be critical. What I needed to do now was think. Maybe we'd be facing a full army within a few hours, maybe not. But from everything Daniel told us, one thing was clear -- Blanco's men were marching toward our land. And they weren't coming to deliver pumpkin pie.



Chapter 2

A Map Is Drawn

"Oh no! We're all going to die! Oh nooooooooo!"

Julian the court jester has always been a nervous fellow. Today he was just hopelessly frantic. As soon as he heard the mention of Blanco's army, Julian was convinced this was going to be his last day on earth. It nearly was -- but because of ME, not Blanco.

I tried to convey a sense of calm confidence after Daniel gave his account. Julian, with his moanings of doom and gloom, did at least make it easy for me to look like a picture of poise.

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We understood that it was our very good fortune to have time to deploy our army for a battle. I tried to get Daniel to be as specific as possible about where he had spied the foot soldier. After a few frustrating minutes of trying to explain which meadow near which hill, Daniel threw up his hands and said he'd draw a map. This worked splendidly, and in seconds Daniel had sketched a simple drawing showing the locations of our castle, of Blanco's castle, and of the approaching foot soldier.

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Daniel's map made it clear that Blanco was not sending a direct frontal attack, but instead was aiming at the west flank. What good news! This meant we might have time to send troops to the main crossroads between our kingdoms.

If we could grab control of the crossroads, we'd be able to stop the enemy from reaching us. And we'd be able to safely send a force to capture that crafty rascal Blanco!



Chapter 3

Choosing the Man for the Job

"We must control the crossroads. If it falls into Blanco's hands, it'll be almost impossible to stop him from posting men anywhere he pleases."

I had no more than said this when several young men jumped up. "I'll go. Send me!" Their eagerness to defend our land was admirable, but naive and perhaps reckless. The veterans in the group knew all to well that the White Army would hardly be stopped by starry-eyed heroes fighting on their own.

Sir Wilbur immediately wanted to charge out on his trusty steed to meet the soldier Daniel had spotted. While I respected Wilbur's courage, I simply could not allow him to jump blindly into a possible confrontation. Before releasing the calvary, I wanted a ground soldier at the scene to provide backup support.

Manfred, my personal bodyguard who posted himself right in front of me, was another one of the fellows just bursting with excitement over the prospect of running headlong into battle. I was convinced, however, that it would be sheer folly for him to meet Blanco's lead man. Manfred would no doubt head straight down the main path, showing no caution. Checking Daniel's map, I saw that this would put him in extreme danger for an ambush.

Daniel believed Blanco's man hadn't spotted him because the soldier's view to the front was blocked by his own shield. The man's large shield reduced his ability to see or fight straight ahead. But -- as I impressed upon Manfred -- we had to respect any ground soldier's ability for hand-to-hand combat. Trying to sneak alongside the invader at close range might turn out to be worse than foolish. It could be suicide.

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"Your honor, I request permission to secure the the crossroads from the south-east."

The voice was young but self-assured. It was Miriam's, my wife's bodyguard and a proven advance scout. She had entered the room just as we were talking about the need to approach the enemy soldier from a safe distance. She was already suited up.

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"I'm the one who should go on this mission."

Miriam leaned over Daniel's map and added some symbols.

"If I posted myself right here, I could challenge anybody charging toward our main gate. Plus, I'd be able to raise our flag over the crossroads. Everyone will feel better if they can see our main road is still open for us."

Miriam was right!



Begin Chapter 4!

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