There were no other ships making sail for the Great King’s realm that day, nor the next. But Mack had heard of one scheduled to arrive soon and then to lift anchor the following day, and had arranged passage for the five travelers. That full day of waiting, however, and the two nights on either side of it, made a stern trial of their patience. They had been on the Prince’s trail since their journey began, and at the end they had come within just a few hours of him. Now the distance between them and their goal was increasing by leagues upon leagues of ocean.
The morning of the third day found them standing on the dock, watching the rising sun illuminate the heaving blue sea before them. Their ship, a long sloop with a broad, sweeping curve to its bow, was anchored just a few lengths away, and its launch-boat was already on its way to pick them up. The sailors extended ready hands to help them as they took their seats, then set their backs to work again at the oars. As they drew near the ship, a rope ladder swung down to meet them. One by one the children climbed its swaying rungs, and the two knights followed. They were greeted at the top by a row of officers in crisp blue and white uniforms, at the end of which stood a very tall man with a thin, arched nose. He had a large black hat on his head, which in its shape reminded Joe of a ship turned upside-down.
The tall man made a wide, sweeping motion with his arm as he bowed. “Welcome, friends. I am Captain Drave of the royal navy, and this is my ship, the Wellspring. I understand we bear some distinguished guests today.”
“Yeah!” said Sim. “That’s Sir Mack, the knight.”
“He’s legendary,” said Lady in her sweetly informative tone.
“And that’s Sir Kobi, captain of the royal guards,” Sim continued.
“Ah, yes,” said Captain Drave. “I know them both by name and reputation, and I am glad to have them aboard. But I was referring to the young heroes I was told about, whose courage and perseverance have kept the hopes of the royal house alive for this land. I take it that you are those three heroes.”
The children blushed and squared their shoulders, not sure how to act under this glowing assessment.
“Well, I’m Joe,” said the oldest. “And this is my brother, Sim, and my sister, Lady.”
“It is my honor to stand at your service,” said Captain Drave. “We heard of the prince’s reported death and the steward’s takeover not long ago, and it grieved us. You have restored our hope.”
After all the introductions had been made, the sailors made their ship ready. There was a wild circus of frantic but orderly activity, with men racing down the deck, others climbing up the rigging, and still others balancing out onto the spars to loose the sails. The children watched this display of activity and discipline with open mouths. As soon as the bright white canvas of the sails fell into place, the wind filled them taut, and all of the sudden the Wellspring was flying away from the harbor. Salty spray rose from the waves under the bow, flooding the air with exhilaration and adventure. Ahead of them stretched the bounding blue field of the sea, moving with such limpid grace that it looked like a silk blanket stretched out on the breeze.
Joe was standing between Kobi and Mack at the base of the ship’s forecastle. “How long will it take to reach the Great King’s country?” he asked.
“A few days,” said Kobi.
“Hmm,” said Joe, drawing a deep breath of the wild, sea-tinged air. “I could take a few days of this.”