Out of breath, the page handed me a small leather pouch. I could feel folded paper inside. Daniel's plan had worked--the falcon had returned with the map! I anxiously pulled open the pouch, to find out what Sir Wilbur had discovered.
"Just look at this!"
Ebonie, Archibald, and Zachary crowded around. "Wilbur's showing us what he knows about our positions. Looks like Blanco believes he can take his good 'ole time and still catch us off guard!"
"I'll bet he panicked when he found out Miriam raised our flag over the crossroads", Ebonie surmised. "Yep, so he's trying to back up that lead scout who he thought would surprise us", added Zack.
Whatever the reason, Blanco's forces were certainly not pushing us into any particular position. The front gate of their castle was still blocked by foot soldiers--their bigger weapons couldn't possibly be used yet. Blanco's invasion was starting to look half-hearted, haphazard, even ho-hum. If he wasn't gonna make things happen to get this conflict over and done with, I was!
It was Archibald who spotted a way to take advantage of Blanco's weakened west flank. "Wilbur's controlling the perfect spot for us to enter their territory. Let me run down to that bluff facing Blanco's headquarters. We can take charge right now and Blanco will be the one who has to worry about an attack!"
"This does look like the break we need" I said. "But we really don't know yet what might be right behind their scouts."
"Jonathan," I then asked the page, "You wouldn't happen to like to draw or climb trees, would you?"
"I love both!"
"Then I have a very important job for you. It must be done quietly and carefully. To deal with Blanco, we need more information. I just don't know enough about what's going on out there. The mission I have in mind for you will be dangerous."
"Yes, your honor." Jonathan said without flinching.
"Archibald, take this young man with you. When you get to your outpost, have Jonathan climb with the map up the highest tree around. Tell him to draw in as much as he can about where soldiers are positioned. Then send that map back on the falcon as fast as you can. As long as it looks safe, send Jonathan back by foot. If you come under attack, use your best judgment."
The tide was already turning in our favor. Rather than huddling in our castle waiting for that bully to run us out, one of our sharp-shooters would be taking aim directly at the heart of Blanco's command post!
And as an added benefit, I now had one less idle advisor chattering in my ear!
Once again, Daniel's falcon returned with the pouch tied to its leg. Within minutes of receiving the updated map, I heard a commotion from the drawbridge.
"I couldn't stop him, he's going after them by himself! I couldn't stop him!"
It was hard to see Jonathan so upset. I had to wonder if I had been too impatient, and had sent him into a situation which no young person should have to see.
Having had a chance to see Jonathan's fine drawings, I already had a good idea about what had happened to so disturb him. Deep down, I still believed that Archibald and the rest of us were going to be OK. But it must've been terrible for Jonathan to see that fine man go straight into the hands of the enemy.
What had happened was this: When Archie and Jonathan arrived at their outpost, Wilbur had already secured the area and they were in no immediate danger. Jonathan soon found a suitable tree for climbing and he worked his way to its top without difficulty. As he revised the map, Jonathan noticed that Archie was staring intently at Blanco's castle. Archie was talking to himself (since he had to talk to someone!), muttering something about Queen Ivory, Blanco's wife. Jonathan told me Archie was saying something to the effect that the queen would have to take action, and soon.
Jonathan finished his map and started down the tree when he noticed movement. Something was happening in the part of Blanco's castle where Archie had been staring. Jonathan pulled out the map again to mark the new changes, when Archie told him "Forget it. There's no time. Let's just get that map back to Gustafon!"
As the falcon took off toward the castle, Archie instructed Jonathan to also return without delay. Archie had realized that unless Blanco's army acted quickly, he'd be able to capture Ivory with all of her powerful weapons by himself.
Then, before Jonathan was back on the ground, Archie saw a protector step in front of Ivory. Archie peered toward Blanco and Ivory's command post, trying to identify this new soldier. What weapon was Ivory's guard holding?
Archie saw that, like himself, the defender was an advisor to the throne. The man's weapon, a cross-bow, matched what Archie was prepared to use. It was now attack or be attacked!
Archie could not allow himself to be taken on the spot.
And so, much to Jonathan's dismay, Archie suddenly ran without warning straight at Blanco's advisor. Archie did this because he was an excellent soldier, and he knew this wasn't the time to hold back.
Wilbur was still standing guard behind Archie, but he was only one man. Archie was now facing two opponents--the enemy advisor and Ivory with her huge arsenal--who could charge his location at any time. If Wilbur tried to back up Archie and take over his post, he too would be captured. King Gustafon's two main defenders would both be in hostile hands!
Should I have allowed Archie to go? That question bothers me to this day! As the battle grew more heated, I was faced with that very same dilemma again -- trying to decide how to position our fine young soldiers when I didn't even know where the enemy might attack next!
If any good came out of all that confusion, it's that we did later find a way to reduce our blindness on the battlefield. I'll never again send my army into such a poorly charted situation.
I re-assured Jonathan as best I could that Blanco would hold Archie prisoner but wouldn't dare harm him. When Blanco himself fell, I'd see to it that all captured soldiers from both sides were safely returned.
To my amazement, Jonathan looked up as if everything was just fine again and calmly said "King Gustafon, I want to go on another mission. When I was in that oak tree drawing the map, I saw something. With Daniel's help, I think I can help get Councilor Archibald back."
Sticking to Old Advice
Despite all those songs, stories, and board games which can make it seem otherwise, war is a dreadful thing. But it can't always be avoided. And so when rogues such as Blanco force war upon us, I'll fight -- fight to win!
One rule for battle which my father burned into my mind was to deploy my forces quickly. Troops which move with lightning speed in an orderly way can out-maneuver much stronger opponents every time.
At dawn this morning, it looked as though Blanco would have the advantage of making the first strike. Yet by mid-morning, that bully had squandered his advantage and we grabbed the opportunity to influence the direction of the fighting.
Wilbur's early effort to secure the west side of the crossroads had been successful. His work had enabled us to answer Blanco's attack with a powerful threat of our own. Blanco was forced by Archie to worry about defending things at home, and we were gonna keep giving him things to think about! "A taste of his own medicine", as Ebonie put it.
Blanco, I'm afraid, had picked the wrong king to mess with. Now that we had some momentum on our side, thanks to Archie's bravery, we fully intended to continue to call the shots just as much as we could. So about the time Jonathan and Daniel headed out for their new mission, I ordered Sir Winston to ride out to the east side of the crossroads.
I had to again give this command to Winston somewhat blindly because I still didn't have a full accounting of Blanco's position. I knew there'd be some risks, of course, in sending out another mounted soldier when we still couldn't be sure how the White Army had planned to attack. Yet I was totally confident that strengthening our hold on the crossroads and sending out the other half of the calvary was the best way to go.
My confidence fell when a piercing, blood-curdling scream came from the east tower.