It had been a long day, a day of chilling cold and long, draining battle. But it had also been a day full of valor. The barbarian hordes had been turned back, and while Sir Timothy mourned his fallen comrades, still he drew strength from the knowledge that the kingdom had once again been made safe.
And from the knowledge that, however weary his legs, home was just over the next rise.
The attack was sudden and brutal, and sent him sprawling, his armor in disarray, flying snow blinding his eyes. He stumbled backwards, furiously trying to clear his vision and identify his assailant. Shrieking laughter split the air.
Sir Timothy sensed, rather than saw, the next attack coming, and flung himself out of its path. A bolt of blistering cold crackled through the air just where his head had been, and the laughter burst out again. "Take that!" cried a familiar voice.
"Foul enchantress!" roared Sir Timothy, recognizing the voice. "How did you escape us?"
More laughter. Timothy finally cleared his vision, and located his foe, the Lady Margaret. Her dark tresses glittered in the frosty air, and her emerald cloak billowed around her as she gathered her powers to release another attack.
Timothy looked around desperately. He was out in the open, and the deep, wet snow was slowing his movement, making it difficult to avoid the attacks. He spied a clump of trees off to the side and dove for cover, just in time. The attack shattered against the tree trunk just in front of him, shimmering fragments rising into the air.
Sir Timothy's mind raced. If he got back home, he would be safe, and might even be able to gather reinforcements. But that would take precious time, and would leave the peasant homesteads unprotected against his enemy's onslaught.
Besides, he thought with a grimace, if he ran away from a fight, then what would be the reaction back home? Especially from his father the King, a noble warrior himself?
A split second's emotion gripped him, as he remembered the times his father had taught him, showing him how to grip his weapon, how to swing, how to throw; the times they had practiced in the courtyard. Few were so lucky as to be trained by the King himself! It was his duty and honor to defend his land!
Without another thought, Sir Timothy readied his sling. The Lady Margaret was readying another attack, her shrill laughter still echoing in the air, but Timothy was ready. As his father had taught him, he took a firm grip on his sling stone, gauged the distance, and swung.
The Lady Margaret released her attack at the same time. Her shot missed. His hit, dead on.
Margaret let out a shriek as the attack connected. He watched with glee as she stumbled, then turned to retreat. "You haven't seen the last of me!" she cried as she ran. "I'll get you back tomorrow!"
Glowing with the exhilaration of his victory, Sir Timothy ran all the way back to the castle. "Mom! Dad!" he cried as he burst through the door, pulling his boots off.
"Well, you're all rosy-cheeked, aren't you?" his mom called from the kitchen. "Been having a good day defending the kingdom?"
Timothy grinned as he pulled off his mittens. "Oh, it was great! I had a long day, but Dad, you should've seen that last shot! I pitched just like you taught me!"
From the living room, his dad grinned proudly over his paper. "That's my boy," he said. "With a little more practice this spring, you'll be the star pitcher of the Little League."
"Come on, Timmy," called his mom, as Timmy finished pulling off his jacket. "I saw you coming and made you hot chocolate."
Ahh, thought Sir Timothy as he strode triumphantly into the Great Hall for his victory feast. Home.