The sun shone down on the fields of Arrens with blazing glory the next day, and the children awoke to a world cast in emerald splendor. The long green grass beyond the river whispered in calm serenity, and the boughs of the trees overhead murmured a soft reply. Choruses of birdsong flowed around them like rivulets from the stream, sprung from a thousand cheery sparrows and finches who clung to the bending grass-stems as they sang. But amid all the beauty of that moment, the sight of the Prince standing at the edge of the wood commanded the center of their attention. He stood tall and still at the mouth of the West-wood highway, his traveling-cloak tinged with dust but his royal helmet shining with brilliant luster. His gaze, sharp and focused, traced over the lines of the walls far ahead of them: the battlements of Arrens, where the banner of the Steward now flew.
Then suddenly, he broke his meditation and spoke: “Squires, knights, commanders! We march!”
Out burst the royal army from beneath the shade of the forest’s edge, out to the banks of the swift-running stream. The Steward’s men had made repairs to the floodgates and closed them, so the water was easily forded. Joe remembered with a smile the drama of their earlier crossing, with Mack’s heroic burst of strength to stem the flood long enough for them to make it across. They slung their shoes over their shoulders and let the cool water wash over their feet as they made the crossing, and then they were up the far bank and in plain sight of the city walls.
“They know we’re coming,” said Sir Kobi, casting a keen eye toward the city. “The gates are shut and the watch is set.”
“And I believe we’ve been spotted by others,” Mack added, nodding toward a great sea of tents thrown up against the foothills to the northwest of the city. From this wild arrangement of colored cloth and makeshift huts poured a stream of people, rushing down toward their position.
“Arms at ready!” one of the prince’s commanders shouted back to the soldiers of his column.
“No, stand down,” said Halbrinnon. “These are not enemies.”
The soldiers fingered the hilts of their swords nervously, but obeyed. They watched as the mass of people poured out of the encampment and came running down through the fields toward them. As they drew nearer, it quickly became clear that the Prince had been right. This was not an army coming out to meet them: no, these were ordinary men and women, young and old, the residents of the city, who ran with joyful haste to fall at Prince Halbrinnon’s feet. There were thousands there, their eyes bright and their faces beaming as they drew up to the Prince’s column.
“My lord!” said the man at the fore, gasping for breath as he knelt down in the grass. “My lord, we heard you were coming! We are with you, O Prince! Let us join you in retaking your throne!”
Halbrinnon looked at them with calm intensity. “Do you know what it means to follow me?” he asked.
“If it means laying down everything we are and everything we have to render you service, then, behold: it is already done!”
“Well spoken,” smiled the Prince. “Come and join this company of friends!”