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The countryside was in flames, Armies descended like locusts on farms and villages, devouring everything they could before marching off with another helpless population center in their sites. For one Inn struggling Inn, though, the arrival of the marauders was a miracle.
Crown Prince  William Ausburg Courber Fredrick Zollern the Fifth, or merely the Crown Prince William to those who couldn't commit the chain of titles and names to memory, was on campaign. In either war or peace, the Crown Prince was a magnet for the creme de la creme of any society. Luckily for the owner of the Inn the Williams as a man of especially notable blood, he was above pillaging.
The decaying wooden walls of the establishment brimmed with nobility. The Crown Prince's entourage mingled with local men of property who hoped to endear themselves to their conquerers early.
The rod spined Crow Prince William sat at the head of a long wooden table. To his right was his aid de camp and second cousin General Schwarteznberg and at his left was William's soon to
be brother in law the fourteen-year-old Prince Leopold Von Saxe Whittlesbach.
William had proposed to Leopold's older sister barely a month before the declaration of war, and she was waiting nervously at home for the return of her dashing fiance.
Leopold was ecstatic to be able to join his brother-in-law on the campaign. The boy was beaming as he laughed boisterously at jokes he was too young to understand and listened in awe at the veterans' anecdotes of glory and blood.
The empty steins were crowding the table faster than the Inn keeper's daughters could refill them. Leopold sipped his beer as quickly as he could in a futile attempt to try and keep up with the red face calvary men who were very seasoned merrymakers.
Leopold watched William with adoring eyes, trying to emulate every aspect of the charming and copasetic Crown Prince's demeanor. He sat straight-backed but wasn't rigid. He was reserved but not cold and wore a uniform that was impressively decorated but was free from some of the more frivolous adornments of his less secure subordinates.
 William's presence was commanding but not domineering. He let his men talk freely and chimed in with precision timing with a joke or a concise and well-delivered anecdote. Whenever he spoke, he held everyone's undivided attention until the last word.
A serving girl came to clear away some of the mess. Her head hung below her shoulders, and she kept her eyes cast away from those of the noble patrons.
"Good evening, my dear," Willliam suddenly addressed the shy girl.
She froze and looked over at the Crown Prince to make sure he really was speaking to her.
"Me? Your highness?"
William flashed a smile, "Who else at this table would I call my dear?" William answered.
The girl blushed. "The night finds me well, your highness," she replied.
William raised his hand. "It's not my wish to bring the stuffiness of the court everywhere with me. Please call me William,"
The girl's cheeks flushed with crimson. "As you wish, William," she giggled.
William's flirtations were interrupted though by an officer who rushed over and whispered something in William's ear.
The Crown Prince nodded his understanding and silently rose to his feet.
"Gentlemen, we ride," he declared.
Leopold watched William waiting to be told what he should do.
"Someone find Prince Leopold a horse William ordered. "Stick close to me. I'll keep you safe." He said, patting Leopold on the back.
They mounted their horses and rode off into the night. Leopold was an experienced rider, but the boy had never ridden tipsy and guided only by Moonlite. The Crown Prince came out at the head of the pack. His long frame held steady in its saddle while the much smaller Leopold fought to stay mounted.
They broke through the shroud of the forest into an open field. A pale moon glowed against the ebony canvass of the night sky, and a steam whistle shrieked in the distance. Leopold looked and saw the lights of a troop train racing to the front. The smoke billowing from the stack was given form by the train's glowing lights, the iron phantom was a spectral figment from the future.
Leopold saw campfires in the distance. AS they galloped closer, he saw long shadows cast by the flames. A pistol shot rang out, and the shadows scattered. Their pray ran in all directions, and cavalrymen broke off from the formation to descend on them. Soon the shadows were screaming.
When dawn broke, and the Sun ascended from night's curtain, the fleeing silhouettes began to take flesh form. Leopold rode in silent horror among the mangled bodies lying in pools of blood. He stopped when he heard gurgling.
Leopold looked down and saw an enemy soldier lying face down in the grass. The dying man raised his head, revealing a mouth running with blood.
"H- help me," he choked.
The boy prince felt his heart seize up, and his stomach drop.
"Please," he repeated his plea red fluid bubbling from between his teeth.
"He's not going to make it."
Leopold turned his head. William was sitting on his horse just a few feet away. His saber at his side the tip dripping with blood.
"The humane thing to do is to put him down quick," William said.
Leopold remained silent, and William's horse trotted up next to his.
"Here take this," William said, pulling his pistole from his belt.
Leopold stared silently at the weapon. "Here," repeated William holding up the gun. "We're here to fight a war, and we're going to fight it like men." The Crown Prince said more sternly this time.
Leopold looked around and noticed everyone was watching now.
Leopold took the gun from William with a trembling hand. He clutched the cold ivory handle and pointed it down at the dying man who just last night had been his enemy. Leopold's trigger finger went numb.
"We haven't got all day," William quipped.
Leopold closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger. His small hand barely kept its grip on the gun.  He kept his eyes closed a moment, afraid to confront what he'd just done. The soldier was still now as fresh blood gushed from his back, dying his blue tunic, a dark crimson.
"Good boy," William said, patting Leopold on the back.


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