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 days before.
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.