There exists an old Kingdom with a peculiar, but no altogether uncommon, trait. It is overwhelmingly defensible given adequate forewarning. Its fields are surrounded by rivers on 3 sides and an impassable mountain to the South. The series of bridges commonly used by merchants and farmers to pass over the river can be completely removed by an impressive feat of engineering, unrivaled by any other kingdom, involving elaborate systems of levers and pulleys and large crews of men. This retracting, given the co-operation of all able men, can be done in the time of a single day across the entire length of river. The water is also deep, chilled, and very fast moving all throughout, making crossing without the bridges all but impossible. Fortifications on the inner banks of the river exist for archers and catapults to lease barrages against any foe that dare approach their land. It is this challenge that the enemies of the kingdom try to find a way to overcome.
It is acknowledged by both the King and his enemies that a surprise attack, one with so little warning that the bridges remain in place, would be successful against what is otherwise a poorly defensible region. Even a force of only moderate size could slaughter anyone within the rivers with ease. With this in mind, the King and his cabinet have a large espionage network that's infiltrated every major kingdom's decision making process. Their spies should, and have many times in the past, notified the King long before any attack, and allow for defenses to be raised, and victory to be assured. The King is very happy with his spies. They've never once failed to bring advance notice of any attack, and his network of informants have proven themselves resilient against counter-infiltration. He is, however, a very paranoid king, and wishes there was some way to be even more certain of his kingdom's safety. He is, as he sits upon his throne, ruminating on some such plans when a man of small stature is brought before him by some guards. The little man is wearing mostly simple clothes, but with some vibrant accents in the trimming.
"Why have you brought this fellow before me?" Asked the King of his guards.
"He claims to have word of an attack on the kingdom, sire." A guard said.
"He seems believable enough, sire, that we thought it best to bring him before you instead of merely dismissing him. You have had more training in detecting the truth of matters." The second guard said.
"Very well." He said, gesturing for the guards to relax. "Sir, may I have your name?" The King spoke directly to his small guest.
"Orin Eldirh, my king." He barely manages to say as he stammers on, "I've been told by a f-friend... a very close friend in-indeed... a t-t-trustworthy sort of fellow, you know... the kind who'd n-never lie, you see... And he says, and he's the employee of a very well off member of the Northern Kingdom's leadership, s-so I trust this information is accurate... He says th-that his boss was part of a meeting to plan a surprise attack on our kingdom. And very soon, I might add. He said the meeting was a pre-planned sort of thing, was going to be on a random day, so our spies wouldn't have time to figure things out, and that they'd have an army ready in less than a day! A day, sire! They're surely marching here now, as I speak."
The king quietly held the man's gaze for several moments before speaking. "And, holding what you've said is what you've heard, why would a noble betray his kingdom by speaking of such a secret meeting?"
"Is that important, sire? We have such little time to prepare for the invasion." Orin says. "Surely what I've said is enough to warrant removing the bridges, whatever his motivations." He paused uncertainly as he looked upon his king. "Isn't it?"
The King heaved a sigh before responding, "No. It really isn't." The King began to elaborate, "You see, removing those bridges cost more than you may realize. It takes every able man in the kingdom to work as fast as you claim we need to. That's an entire day's worth of labor used up. With the bridges up, that's maybe a weeks worth of trade and messages that wont be coming or going, seeing as the men wont work themselves so hard for two days in a row to put things back. What you personally lose may well be small, but it will make our kingdom and its stores suffer."
"But what are those costs to the lives of those people, those women, those children, lost to an attack?" Orin admonished.
"There is more at work here than you think, Orin." The King firmly answered, "You do not know how much thought I have put into the defense of my people." Orin's outrage slowly began diminishing as he took a sheepish stature. "Imagine, if you will, that I heed the word of every beggar and peasant who claimed some terrible force was underway. It's a much more common experience than you seem to think. Not a week goes by without someone offering their wisdom of an attack that my spies have somehow missed hearing of. The people of the kingdom would spend more time cowering in fear of an impending attack than doing anything else if I listened to every such piece of obvious paranoia or subterfuge. My people would tire of removing the bridges. Traders would tire of so frequent delays in their travels. It would spell our eventual doom, I'm sure of it." The King took a deep breathe and frowned, calmly continuing, "And yet, how could I ever forgive myself if I left us undefended from a legitimate attack? My spies are not perfect. Such a random meeting as you described may elude them, if we were unlucky and it was well implemented." The King pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes before continuing, "I have to determine, to the best of my abilities, whether or not this threat is legitimate. So I'll ask you again, as I must know, why might this noble betray his kingdom?"
Orin swallowed and said, "If what my friend says is to be believed, and I consider it so, then this noble is not motivated by loyalty for his kingdom. I was told that he was not born into his position, but bought it himself. He has quite a fortune from his ownership of many kinds of businesses and guilds. War hurts him more than it helps the businesses of his kingdom, I've been told he believes. He'd wish to avoid starting any kind of fight, I'd think, if this were true."
"I know of a man of the Northern Kingdom who fits that description. It's possible, not likely, but possible, he's heard things our spies have not." The King said, "And that he might also decide to warn us if he heard such a thing. But there's still the matter of *your* trustworthiness. How should I know that you are not a lying spy, sent form the North to deceive?"
Orin's eyes grew wide with fear as he attempted to speak, "ple-please, s-s-sire, I w-would n-n-never be-betray my kingdom!"
"So a spy would say." Orin opened his mouth to protest but the King interrupted "No, nothing you can say will persuade me you aren't just a well trained spy." The King smiled, "But I have been giving thought to how I may judge your information's usefulness. You are an artisan of some skill, right? You're better dressed than a peasant can afford."
Orin spoke "A potter, sir." After a pause he then bashfully admits, "Of kinds both functional and beautiful, as I've been told by my more affluent clients."
The King smiled wider, "Then you are well off, yes? How much would you consider your current wares and savings worth?"
Nervous about the King's sudden eagerness, Orin hesitantly replies, "700 coins, but p-perhaps even 800 c-coins... If I sold my s-shop and everything w-within."
"Very well. I propose a wager. 20 to 1 against this invasion being real." The king laughed as he saw Orin's shocked face. "What, surprised your King is a betting man? If you'd like to convince me you're not lying, then put your money where your mouth is, I say. If you'd also like to convince me you're right about this, you'll have to bet big. If you're willing to put up 1000 coins I'm willing to call for the removal of the bridges." Orin just stood there silently, jaw agape. The King continued speaking, "That's 200 coins of debt if you're wrong about this, a lifetime of payments for someone of your skills. If you're right, however, you will be rewarded handsomely. 20,000 coins is enough to keep you from working the rest of your life, if you'd like. I think that's fair compensation for saving the kingdom."
The King just smiled as he waited for Orin to speak.
Orin remained silent as he fervently thought about his options. He swallowed several times and wrung his hands together. After several minutes of silence he took a breath and spoke, "I'll take it." The King's smile grew as Orin spoke, "I'll take the bet. After considering his trustworthiness, it seems like my friend is right. I am willing to risk myself for his word. I am not willing to risk my kingdom."
"Very well." The King said before looking towards the two men standing to Orin's side, "Guards, one of you notify the city that an attack is impending. We have 2 days at most before the Northern Kingdom is here." The left one nods at once and left the chamber. "Orin, I hope you understand why you should stay here for the night. We can't have you running off." Orin nodded stiffly in understanding. Looking at the remaining guard, the King said, "Orin here is your responsibility. Keep him occupied and within the castle until you have my word to release him. You may send out someone to notify his family of the circumstances surrounding his stay. They are welcome to come visit as soon as their duties for preparation are complete." After a short thought he said, "Orin is a guest here, not a prisoner, so treat him as such."
Standing up from his throne, the King walked over to where Orin was standing, petrified by what was happening around him. The King, towering over the small man, said, "If you are right about this, I am incredibly grateful that you came to me." The King reached out and grabbed Orin's shoulder, looking into his eyes with his own, and smiled wide. He then released him and returned to his seat. "You may go, I'm soon to be swamped by my bureaucracy for the coming hours as we prepare for this fight." Orin and his escort made their way from the room. As the door closed behind them another one opened as several official looking men rushed in, chatting loudly. The King straightened his stature and forced a smile as he prepared himself for dealing with his government for the next several days.