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.
"Let's go save our people," he said.