"Even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old." - Fyodor Dostoevsky, from The Brothers Karamazov
May God in the plenitude of his love pour upon you the torrents of his grace, bless you and keep you in his holy fear, prepare you for a happy eternity, and receive you at last into immortal glory. Amen.
The passage back to Westport had
gone quickly, with fair winds and bright skies over the sapphire sea. The
children had watched, entranced, as silver-streaked dolphins danced in the
curling foam around the bow, and as gulls and shearwaters wheeled down in arcs
that nearly traced their wingtips in the water. But more entrancing still was
the presence of their prince, whose dignity and grace filled the ship with an
intoxicating mix of gravity and lightness of spirit, all at the same time.
Prince Halbrinnon had chosen to ride back on the Wellspring along with Kobi, Mack, and the children. And filling the
horizon behind them was the great fleet, their white sails shining in the
sunlight so brightly that the dawn seemed to come from two directions at once.
When they sailed into the harbor of
Westport, they saw the sleepy town spring into action, alarmed at the
approaching armada. Sailors ran back and forth across the docks, and some of
the smaller ships hauled anchor and tried to speed away around the edges before
the great fleet came to rest in the calmness of the bay. But there was no
resistance; no army there to meet them. All was just as they had left it a few
The disembarkation took quite a long
time. With so many ships, it was a full day before all of Prince Halbrinnon’s
army was assembled and ready to march. The children watched all the
arrangements with quiet wonder, and the more they watched, the more the prince’s
greatness was magnified in their eyes. It wasn’t the army that made the prince
seem great, though—it was the fact that even though he came to these shores
with such evident power and authority, there was nevertheless an overwhelming
humility about him. He seemed as simple and gentle and kind as any penniless
shepherd from the hills; and yet he somehow combined that aspect with a regal
majesty that took their breath away.
The journey back to Arrens was far
less eventful than their earlier trip down that same road had been. Whereas the
children had previously encountered dangers at every turn, now, with the prince
beside them, even the dangers seemed to bow down in their presence.
Lady noticed it first. They came to
the barren expanse of the burning lands, and at first they regarded those low,
dusty ravines with fear. The memory of that place was still fresh, and the
terror it invoked welled up inside them as they looked out over the
still-charred countryside. But then something strange happened. First, orders
were given out to ensure that no one in the army struck a spark during the
passage, and then they began to march over the sandy high road. The children
were walking at the head of the column, together with the prince, Mack, and
Kobi. And as they walked, a ripple of color flashed in the corner of Lady’s
vision. The first thought that raced through her mind was that the flames had
been ignited, that she was seeing the orange rush of fire off to the side. But
as she turned her head with a gasp, she realized that it was something else
entirely. A wave of color was indeed sweeping over the ravines, but it wasn’t
fire. It was the gentle opening of a thousand flowers all at once, as their
bright petals radiated out in the bright morning air. Oranges and reds and
yellows were there, just as in the flames, but now other hues too—blues and
greens, purples and pinks, all flashing like radiant jewels. The wave of color
followed them across the canyonlands, as new rows upon rows of wildflowers
pushed up and opened with each step that they took. The boys had seen it now
too, and they watched in wordless wonder as cascades of color washed over the
black and dead horizon. Wherever the prince stepped, life burst out all around
him in a symphony of joy.
They didn’t quite know what to make
of this. They pointed it out to Kobi and Mack, who each drew a sharp breath of
awe as they marveled at the sight, but they had no explanation for it. Then the
children asked the prince, who looked over the rainbow beauty of the fields and
then simply laughed. And when he laughed, a flutter of doves and hummingbirds
appeared, zipping along the verdant tracks of the canyonlands like a thousand
sunsets racing toward their rest.
There was nothing to do but to drink
in the beauty and then march on. So on they marched, and day passed into day.
Everywhere they went, the land around them, which had been hard and deadly only
a few weeks before, now seemed to be a riot of celebration.
"Thus receiving in a divine revelation the loveliest standard of truth [i.e., the Bible], let us preserve the treasures lying therein, adding nothing to it and in no way diminishing or distorting it. If we watch over the Scriptures we ourselves will be watched over by them, guarding them and being guarded." - (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite, a prominent writer and theologian from the period of the early church fathers (Painting: "Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers," by Antoine Caron, c.1570)
I thank you, Lord, for all the sins which I have not done, because you restrained me. I thank you for the sorrow I have felt for all the sins I have done. I thank you for all the people I have met, both friends and enemies. And I pray for them all, that they may all be your friends.
Those final moments of sailing into the royal harbor were a whirlwind of excitement and expectation. Halbrinnon had shaken off the identity of a solitary traveler, and now he walked with all the authority, dignity, and honor of the Great King's son. The two ships they had taken from Westport sailed smoothly into the harbor, where they took up positions on the front line of the vast royal war-fleet.
Preparations began immediately to sail out again. The Prince disembarked to meet with an official on shore, and he invited the three children to accompany him. After they had been rowed to the end of the longest dock, they climbed up and walked behind the Prince across the boards. One after the other, in single file they came: Prince Halbrinnon, Joe, Sim, and Lady. At the far end of the dock, where the waves met the sandy strip of beach, a single man stood waiting. He was tall and lean-boned, with a long brown beard and a mop of bushy hair. He had a peculiar gleam in his eye as he watched the Prince approach.
Halbrinnon turned to the children. "This is my cousin," he told them, "and a faithful servant of my Father."
The bearded man smiled kindly at them, then turned his attention back to the Prince. "Are you ready?"
"I am," said the Prince, bowing his head.
The man reached out a hand and placed it on the crown of Halbrinnon's head, then closed his eyes and breathed out a whispered prayer. When he was done, he reached into a leather satchel that was slung around his side and produced a gleaming silver helmet. It was a beautiful, glimmering piece of armor, which swept up into a hard yet graceful peak. And around the circle of the top of the helmet ran the golden frame of a royal crown, built into the armor itself. The crown was crafted with long, flowing lines and studded with precious jewels. It was clearly the helmet of a great war-leader, and just as clearly the sign of a rising king.
"Go forth," said the cousin, as he placed the helmet on Halbrinnon's head, "in the love of your Father, and in the power of his kingly spirit."
The Prince raised his head and looked into his cousin's eyes with a fierce and powerful love. "Thank you, friend," he said, reaching out to grasp the other man's shoulder with a strong grip of brotherly affection.
Then he turned, drew a deep breath, and looked back out to sea, with the fleet of ships riding calmly up and down on the waves before him. His eyes flitted down to the three children standing there, regarding him with unhidden awe.
"My loyal adventurers," he said, kneeling down to share the level of their gaze. "Sir Mack told me a few minutes ago that he made you royal squires of the King's house."
"That's right!" said Sim. "He wanted to show us what it meant to be a knight like him."
"But he said he can't make people knights," Lady added. "Only squires. But that's okay; we like being squires."
"Indeed," the Prince smiled. "From what I've heard, you three have proved to be better than any other squires Sir Mack ever served with. And with your permission, I would like you to come into my personal service."
"You mean that instead of being Sir Mack's squires, we would be your squires?" Joe asked.
The Prince nodded. "Mack has already given his permission. In fact, he told me as we were sailing in that you have really been my squires from the very beginning, always with your hearts set on finding me. So, yes, you would be the three squires of the Prince of Arrens. And, what's more, I hope that you would also be my friends."
"We're already your friends!" Sim laughed. "How could we not be?"
Halbrinnon broke into a broad grin. "Just so. So will you follow me?"
"To the ends of the earth!" said Joe bravely, his eyes suddenly bright with tears.
"And even farther!" Sim added.
"Prince Hal, I would follow you anywhere," said Lady. "Anywhere and everywhere, forever and ever and ever."
"And I," said the Prince, "I will always keep you with me. Forever and ever and ever."
He held out his hand, and the three children placed their hands atop his.
"Be intent upon the perfection of the present day, and be assured that the best way of showing a true zeal is to make little things the occasions of great piety." - William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Painting: "Piety," by an anonymous British painter, c.1600)
O God, teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek; for unless you instruct me I cannot seek you, and unless you reveal yourself I cannot find you. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you.
The man's hood fell around his shoulders. Joe drew a sharp breath. It was the same face he had seen on that dark night in the street--the same beard, the same bright, kind eyes, and the same wise turn of a smile at the corners of his mouth.
Sir Kobi immediately dropped to one knee. "My liege!" he said.
Sim drew a coin from his pocket, the same coin he and Joe had looked at on the morning their adventure began. He held it up so that the profile engraved on its face was right beside his view of the stranger's visage.
"He sure looks like the same guy to me."
Mack stepped forward and inclined his head. "Forgive my needing to ask, my lord. We suspect that you are Prince Halbrinnon. Are we right?"
The man held the old knight's gaze for a long moment, his mysterious and dignified smile still lingering on his lips. Then he spoke.
All at once, the whole crew of the ship fell to their knees in humble submission. Mack bent his own aged legs and bowed his head. The children followed his example.
"Rise, my friends," said the Prince. There was a tenor of delight in his voice that made a thrill run through Joe's heart when he heard it.
After they were all standing again, Halbrinnon took a long look around. "How is it that you're here?" he asked. "Why do you seek me?"
Joe swallowed nervously and then spoke up. "I...I saw you in the street the night you left Arrens, my lord."
"Ah, yes. I remember you."
"Well, we heard the news the next morning that you had died at the palace during the night, and I knew it wasn't true, because I had seen you, so we decided to follow you."
"To ask you to come back," Sim added.
"And," said Lady, "we had to go through floods and wolves and captures and fires to get to you. So I think maybe you'd better come back."
The Prince laughed. "You brave souls! Have you truly dared all these things just to find me?"
The children nodded.
"Well, in the face of such sacrifice, duty constrains me! Not the noblest knights in the land have ever undertaken a greater quest!"
"Will you come back, then?" asked Sir Mack.
The Prince turned his kind eyes on the knight. Rather than answering him, he responded with a question of his own. "Did you think I was running away?"
"We didn't know what to think, to tell the truth. We just wanted to prove you weren't dead. I...I guess I feared that maybe with the Steward's coup at the palace, you had decided to return permanently to your father's lands."
The Prince gave a wide, beaming smile, his eyes flashing with the light of courage and joy. "My friends," he said, "my leaving is always only a preparation for my coming. This is no flight away from trouble. No, this is the moment we retake the world."
And as he spoke those words, the Wellspring sailed around a jutting headland of the approaching coast and saw gathered in the harbor on the far side a war-fleet so vast that it blanketed the waves from one shore to the other. There were ships without number floating at anchor there, high-sided ships with shining white sails drawn up against the spars of tall, soaring masts. The children's jaws dropped. "What are those for?" Sim wondered aloud. "Those," said the Prince, "are what I came over here to get. You see, I would never submit to giving my people over to Steward Presten's rule. My plan has always been to come back again and set them free." "So you came here to get ready for a return," Joe summed up. "To come back in a way that the Steward wouldn't be able to stand against." "Exactly. And you, my friends, will come with me. Together we'll cross back over, make our landing, and restore our country to what it was always meant to be." Lady put her hands on her hips and set her jaw, striking the most courageous pose she could think of. "Let's do it!" she said.