Black Moon Draw (Four, page 1 of 2)

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The Shadow Knight of Black Moon Draw hunched over the map of his kingdom. The positions of his army and those of his greatest enemy were marked, and his second-in-command stood beside him, quietly observing the familiar process. The mists that had covered his kingdom for nearly a thousand years clung to his dark clothing.

He tapped one spot and then leaned away, ready to roll the map to keep the fog from smearing the ink.

"The battle of Brown Sun Lake will be great indeed," he said with satisfaction.

"You do not wish to wait for your battle-witch?"

"My dreams told me naught last night. I cannot wait. We will move into position."

His loyal second said nothing, and he considered the routes of approach and egress, knowing how advanced his enemy was. It would be a battle the bards would sing about for a thousand years: the barbarian hordes of Black Moon Draw overthrowing the more massive, better equipped armies of Brown Sun Lake. His life had led up to this moment, each battle teaching him a new lesson, a new skill.

Finally, he was prepared, and with little time to spare. Once he claimed Green Dawn Cave and Brown Sun Lake, he would negotiate a surrender with the Red Knight of White Tree Sound, who preferred not to go to battle at all.

Only then, after the ten kingdoms of his realm were subdued, he would face his greatest battle: the thousand-year curse plaguing his world.

"Message, sire!" a cry rang out from behind him.

He rose from his crouch to see who spoke. One of his most trusted messengers, a man with the head of a mule, ran from the forest nearby.

"From whom?" his second asked, meeting the messenger.

"Scout at Blue Star Bridge."

The Shadow Knight strode forward, reaching them in two long steps, and snatched the satchel the messenger held up. He opened it carefully and pulled free the messenger bird from its depths. The golden finch perched in his palm, its black eyes darting around.

"What story do you tell, little bird?" he whispered the typical greeting of the messenger bird corps, a rare, elite breed of bird capable of transporting messages and delivering them mentally.

At his words, the finch began to sing, conveying short, excited bursts of information.

Witch at blue bridge.

The message was repeated over and over.

"Ah." The Shadow Knight nodded in satisfaction. It was yet another sign he was meant to triumph at Brown Sun Lake, now that his battle-witch had appeared. "Wolf, fetch our horses. We return to the bridge now."

His second sprang away. The bird began to sing a new tune and the Shadow Knight tensed.

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