Peering across the wide plain toward distant Mt. Aerie, our lookouts gathered signals from Jonathan and Daniel well into the afternoon. The two brightly colored flags gave us an invaluable stream of information about the ever-changing position of the White Army. Although the peacefulness and bounty of the fertile fields had been replaced by danger and chaos, those distant flags offered a promise that order would return.
In addition to signalling what Blanco's troops were doing, Jonathan or Daniel would occasionally signal ideas about how we might re-arrange our own soldiers. At one point, our lookouts ran to me with a map that showed an especially bold idea sent from the mountain.
The plan was to send Ebonie and her guard on a surprise attack against Blanco's west flank. With backup support from Winston, Ebonie could wreak havoc on the entire western side of the battlefield! Jonathan abbreviated his signal for this daring plan to reduce the chance of it being intercepted by the White Army. Translated into my letter and number system, his message was simply "h4"!
That was when Jonathan fell. Like young Will years ago, Jonathan tumbled and slid down the side of the mountain. His flags disappeared from sight, and without those glaring colors, our lookouts could no longer make out any sign of him at all. All they knew was that before he disappeared, Jonathan had been frantically sending a complex signal that seemed to make no sense.
I had no choice but to go on, and to make sure we stayed focused on the dangers right in front of us. You can be sure that Jonathan was never far from my mind. I'd like to think I never lost faith that somehow he was alright. And I was determined to do my best to make sure that last signal from him wasn't for nothing.
I ordered the lookouts to study Jonathan's confusing final signals with some our brightest young people. They were to figure out what Jonathan was trying to tell us. Meanwhile, I instructed Ebonie to prepare to carry out the raid that Jonathan and Daniel had proposed.
Ebonie was within minutes of departing with her troops when a shout was heard from the group studying Jonathan's message.
"Blanco might have a war room of his own!"
I went to the table where the group was huddled around our map of the battlefield and the record of Jonathan's signals.
"Jonathan's signals only make sense if he saw Blanco do something way out of the ordinary. I think Blanco has moved deeper into his castle -- the secret plan for Ebonie should be called off!"
"From what I can tell, King Gustafon, this is the situation we're facing."
I stared at the new map. wondering if it accurately showed what Jonathan had seen before he slipped.
A Message Falls Into Enemy Hands
From his position at the crossroads, Sir Wilbur had been the only one with a clear view of Jonathan's fall. Horrified, he immediately headed toward Mt. Aerie to see if the young page had survived, and if a rescue mission was needed.
Abandoning his key location at this point in the battle was not desirable, even though Wilbur immediately captured one of Blanco's foot soldiers. His side mission would slow down our progress, but certainly no one questioned Wilbur's commitment to helping Jonathan.
Daniel was mystified and shocked to see Wilbur heading in his direction. Not long before, Daniel had been talking with Jonathan about Wilbur's excellent outpost and together the two had formulated a plan that counted on Wilbur holding the center of the battlefield. Their plan would take advantage of the greediness and over-confidence that Ivory had been displaying. They would bait a trap that they knew Ivory and her guards would be unable to resist.
As soon as he finalized the plan with Jonathan, Daniel moved quickly down toward the battle to put the plan into action. Approaching the eastern edge of the fighting area, he had no idea of the movement by Blanco that Jonathan had witnessed. He was unaware that Jonathan had slipped and fallen. And now he saw Wilbur taking a position that would force Ivory to move. For his plan to work, Ivory needed to be kept on the east side of the field!
Daniel sprang into action. He took two pieces of parchment and quickly wrote messages on them. On the smaller piece, Daniel wrote a cryptic message about needing a treatment for gluttony!
Daniel rolled this note around the left leg of his falcon, and tied it so that it was nearly impossible to see from a distance. Daniel then rolled the larger note and held it so that the falcon squeezed it in its talons. The message on this piece of parchment was a clear and urgent request for help on the east side of the battlefield.
Daniel hollered loudly toward Wilbur and motioned for him to stop. He did this dramatically, attracting the attention of Ivory's guards. Then with a sudden toss, Daniel launched the bird with its cargo. He gave a loud whistle, and his prize falcon responded immediately by heading directly toward our castle. Daniel had chosen the release spot carefully, making sure Ivory and her guards were directly between the castle and himself. He wanted the falcon to fly directly over the enemy!
First one arrow, then several more came flying at the racing bird. Daniel had expected this, and knew that they would miss their mark. As the arrows fell yards short of their target, Daniel whistled again. This whistle sounded like an eagle's scream, and not even Wilbur realized where it came from. It was the signal used during hunts to tell the falcon to drop its captured prey.
The large parchment fell. Daniel smiled as he saw enemy troops, believing they had frightened the bird into dropping a secret message, catch his note and take it to Ivory. The bait had been received! A minute later, the falcon delivered its hidden second message to us.
Jonathan and Daniel's plan began to take effect immediately. Ivory could easily have avoided Wilbur's unintended threat to her by returning to a secure central position. Instead, she now felt that our troops were terribly afraid of her and she determined to stay in the open and launch new attacks. Just like Daniel intended, her overconfidence and greed led her without much thought away from possible escape routes in the event of an unexpected emergency.
The message delivered to our castle by the falcon had been written using code words, just in case it accidentally fell into enemy hands. Ivory herself would never have recognized the description Daniel used of her. But it wasn't hard for us to realize that he was letting us know he had seen a possible way to trap her on the eastern fields. The key to the trap was the peculiar phrase Ebonie's parlor -- which seemed to be the area on our map shown as d7. Only Ebonie herself could move to that location quickly. But how would that help us?
Wilbur realized that now that he had no backup protection, he was vulnerable to attack from Ivory and would need to move out of danger. Thinking that Daniel was aware of Jonathan's fall and would handle that situation, he decided to return to his post at the crossroads. Ivory turned to the second unprotected target she had been menacing, and captured our fine foot soldier stationed in front of the east tower.
Our casualties were suddenly mounting. Before risking another soldier to Ivory's many weapons, I called a security meeting to analyze Daniel's message. We needed to be certain we understood the potential dangers and benefits of a major battle on the eastern front. Ivory would surely not be taken without a fight!
Miriam Leaves Us
While we debated plans for the battle in the eastern fields, Miriam and Wilbur faced a different problem.
"Welcome back! But why in the world did you leave so fast?"
Sir Wilbur had a distant, apologetic expression as he glanced toward Miriam, who was again providing him back-up support at the crossroads. "I was watching Jonathan up there on the cliff. He was waving those flags wildly then ..." Wilbur hesitated.
Wilbur's eyes became even more distant, more concerned. "Then it looked like he must've slipped. It looked like a bad fall. I just took off to see if he needed help."
"Is he alright?"
"I can't say. Daniel signalled to me to drop back. I think they're hoping to trap Ivory over there, and were afraid she'd take off and escape if I kept heading that way."
"So is Daniel taking care of Jonathan?"
"That's what I thought at first, but I'm not sure now. Daniel had come down from Aerie when he signalled to me. If he had already left before Jonathan fell, he might not realize what happened. He might not know Jonathan isn't on the cliff anymore." Both were silent. "I'm sorry, Miriam, I just don't know. The moment things settle in the east field, I'll go back and find Jonathan. I promise."
Our council in the war room decided there was not a foolproof way to force Ivory into a trap. If Blanco's army realized what we were doing, they'd be able to mount an adequate defense. On the other hand, we realized we could devise a trap that wasn't needlessly risky. If Blanco saw it, it might fail but we'd still come out at least even. If it worked, we'd rid the battlefield of Ivory.
My primary concern was that we must not allow our back rank to be overrun. If we overextended ourselves trying to catch Ivory and allowed the enemy to send a battering ram deep into our territory, our war room would become a death trap. Rather than offering protection, its heavy walls would instead prevent my escape. There would be no saving our kingdom.
To successfully trap Ivory, we'd have to keep her in the eastern fields and we'd need Blanco's army to delay activating their battering ram. The decoy message dropped by Daniel's falcon looked like it would help accomplish both of these goals. Blanco's soldiers thought we were unprepared for Ivory, and were dangerously overconfident. Still, there'd be time for Blanco to mount a strong defense if he suddenly became careful. Another distraction would be needed, and it was provided by Miriam.
Ebonie made the first critical move for our plan. As Daniel's note suggested, she moved into her parlor. This gave her access to the area marked on the map as c6, making sure that parcel of land would not be available as a place of refuge for Ivory. Ebonie's advance also allowed Howard and Harold to work together. As a team, their effectiveness greatly increased. One plus one is more than two when it comes to those fellows!
As we expected and hoped, Ivory continued her blitz through our fields and captured our foot soldier on b7. So far, things were progressing according to plan. Unfortunately, most of our soldiers on the east didn't know about our plan and of course must've been frightened by the ease with which Ivory was making captures. After having moved forward, Ebonie was now close enough to Miriam to talk with her without drawing attention. Ebonie saw Miriam's concerned look (which actually was because of worries about Jonathan, not about Ivory). She cupped her hands around her mouth and whispered directly at Miriam "That's exactly where we want that witch!"
The critical moment had arrived. The trap had been built but a door for escape was still open. Miriam baited the White Army into closing the escape door themselves!
"Ebonie, help me please! Ivory has me pinned! If I move, she'll take Wilbur! Send help before I'm attacked!"
The White Army thought they sensed panic. It was true that Miriam was temporarily not free to defend herself in hand-to-hand combat. Blanco instinctively reacted to Miriam's plea by dispatching a foot soldier to threaten her with capture.
Though none of us realized it at the time, Miriam had already decided that she wanted to leave the battlefield if the opportunity arose. Still, the image of fear she conveyed was convincing, and it bought us the time we needed to execute our plan!
Howard moved quickly into position, and the trap was sprung. Caught off guard by his sudden appearance, Ivory's already white face took on the color of snow. Howard stared directly at her, unblinking. Ivory would realize soon that she had no escape, and all she could do was cause the most damage possible before being captured. Howard knew from our planning meeting that if we reached this position, Ivory's best move would be to capture Harold, not him. Howard stared fiercely, challenging her to capture her tormentor, not Harold.
As selfish as ever, Ivory failed to consider how she might best help the remainder of her army. By capturing Harold, she could've forced Howard to capture her and her elite guard in our east tower. Doing so would've cleared an entire line across the battlefield from b1 to b8. The White Army's battering ram could've salvaged something from her disasterous ending by taking control of such a valuable open pathway. But Ivory was not thinking about those who would still be fighting after she had left, and -- after Ivory's guard took Howard -- Harold captured her and the open avenue for us!
Our losses from this skirmish were not over. Harold had barely finished sending Ivory off the board when Blanco's infantry captured our Miriam. Wilbur, Ebonie, and Manfred all witnessed this loss and they all said that Miriam seemed strangely happy, even excited, as she was carried from the field.
Even more puzzling, rather than wait at the eastern edge of the battlefield for the end of the fighting, Miriam abandoned our other captured soldiers and began running toward Mt. Aerie. When both Archie and Zach hollered for her to wait, Miriam didn't look back, and soon disappeared among the trees.