Once upon a time there was a knight in the service of a great lord.
One morning, as he was standing guard at the drawbridge to his lord’s castle, a brigand came down the road and attempted to pass by him. As was his knightly duty, he silently drew his sword and blocked the brigand’s path. His lord was quite wealthy and the castle was elsewise undefended, and brigands frequently made halfhearted attacks at fighting their way past him into the castle. But he was a formidable knight, and none could best him in battle.
“Hello!” exclaimed the brigand, nodding vigorously. “I appreciate your diligence! Marvelous security!”.
The knight cocked his head and let out a perplexed grunt despite himself. This was not, in his experience, typical brigand behavior.
The brigand, meanwhile, was nearly vibrating with excitement: “Yes, I appreciate it a great deal! The safety of my castle is paramount, and I’m quite glad to see you doing your duty.”
The knight was so surprised he dropped his fierce mien and let slip the first word that came to mind: “What?!”
“Oh yes, I do appreciate a go-getter. We’ll get on well!”
“I’m afraid you must be under some form of misapprehension, sir. This is in fact the castle of my great lord, and I am his defender. Now be on your way!”
“Marvelous, marvelous!” exclaimed the not-at-all-ordinary brigand. “Well said, well said. Except: I’ve here a document, saying that this castle is in fact not the property of your lord, but rather my property.”
A moment passed.
“Pardon?” asked the knight.
This was news to him, and he was by now so wrong-footed he had quite forgotten to be fierce.
“Yes, it’s all in here I’m afraid,” replied the brigand, waving a large leather-bound tome around somewhat negligently. “You see, the last will and testament of your lord’s great-great grandfather contained a clause stipulating some rather complex rules for succession.” The brigand’s voice dropped as he added in a proud, conspiratorial whisper: “It’s taken quite some time to un-puzzle it in fact.”
The brigand went on to explain that the heavy, bound document was in fact the will in question, and that it contained a lengthy series of complex puzzles, clues, quizzes, and codes that specified how the great-great-grand-lord’s property was to be disbursed. He shared with the knight the bundled papers on which he had sought to solve the mystery, and helped walk him through the complex reasoning that led the man to his claim of ownership. The two sat together for hours, poring over the complex question and seeking the truth of the puzzle.
The sun was slipping lower in the sky when finally the knight arose in triumph and let out a cry of excitement.
“Aha! I see it!” he exclaimed. “You’ve absolutely right in your solution to the puzzle on page seven… but your erred slightly in the acrostic on page nineteen, which means your inferred clues to the quiz on page eighty-one led to an incorrect code for deciphering page one-hundred-eleven! The castle is still the property of my lord!”
The brigand’s face fell as he frantically flipped through pages and verified the knight’s objection.
“You’re absolutely right,” he finally admitted. “I guess I’d best go. Thank you for your patience!”
“Not at all,” replied the knight, genuinely pleased to have resolved the sticky issue and already looking forward to the praise his lord would doubtless heap upon him for his diligence. “Not at all!”
The brigand turned and began walking away.
The knight stood, raised his arms over his head and stretched the mighty stretch of an active man who’d spent the day doing puzzles cross-legged on the ground. He leaned left and right, pulled his arms in front of his torso and behind, stood tip-toed on each leg in turn, and only then, fully limber, did he chance to turn around and see, for the first time in hours, his lord’s castle.
And the hastily-assembled log bridge that the brigand’s compatriots had levered across the moat while he was distracted.
And the ladder they had climbed over the castle wall.
And his lord’s corpse, hanging out the tower window, dripping blood on the parapet below.
Once upon a time there was a knight.
He was of no service.
He had had no lord.
But he had learned a very important lesson: Never let your opponent dictate the arena of the conflict.