Joe knew that any battle to take a fortified city could be a long, protracted affair. As it turned out, they didn’t have long to wait. The day after the armory-master defected, the sound of rolling drums from the walls scattered the singing birds at dawn. The gates and drawbridges thundered open, and out of the streets of Arrens poured battalion after battalion of soldiers, their burnished armor shining in the morning light. Prince Hallomer’s leaders had been right—the Steward had seen the smallness of the invading army, knew the invulnerability of his walls, and sensed an opportunity to overwhelm the loyalist camp across the western fields.
“What should we do?” asked Captain Drave.
Prince Halbrinnon narrowed his eyes as he regarded the approaching army. “Make ready,” he said.
Sir Kobi and the other leaders turned and started walking through the camp, issuing orders. There was a general clamor as men raced back and forth through the maze of tents, hurrying to strap on their armor, seize their weapons, and take up positions in ordered ranks. It didn’t take the Prince’s army long to gather in their places, not even the new recruits from the city and the wilds. They stood proudly, shoulder to shoulder, the fierce courage of the moment shining in their eyes. But as the children looked over the loyalist troops, they could see that there simply weren’t enough there. As impressive as was the host that had sailed over from the Great King’s land, it could not compare in numbers to the endless ranks that were streaming out from the city of Arrens.
Sir Mack stood beside Prince Halbrinnon, looking back and forth between the two armies.
“Normally,” said the old knight, “I would say that this was not a winnable war. But we have you, my Lord.”
“Your faith is as great as your courage, Sir Mack,” the Prince answered.
“But is faith enough?” asked Kobi, who had rejoined the leaders at the fore.
“Faith is the whole battle,” said the Prince.
He paused, looking out at the oncoming army across the vast fields of grass. “How long before they are close enough to attack?”
“An hour to march,” said Kobi, “and another to draw themselves up into the positions they want.”
“Two hours…” Mack chimed in. “It gives us time to improve our position, too. We could withdraw a little further up into the foothills. There’s a ravine just behind that ridge that will give us an easily defensible position. Their advantage of numbers won’t help them there.”
“Any vulnerabilities that come with that terrain?” asked Drave.
“Only one,” said Mack. “But only an old knight-errant like me would know about it. There’s a small pass on the far side that would turn the ravine into a trap if they knew they could encircle us. But I’m fairly confident they don’t know, and so the pass will serve as a way of retreat for us if we need it.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” said Kobi. “There was never anyone in the Citadel who knew the lay of these lands half as well as you, Sir Mack.”
“Do we have your order, sir?” Mack asked the Prince, who nodded quickly.
“Yes, take up your new position. There’s no sense risking lives by staying here on open ground.”
Joe and Sim listened to this exchange with interest. Lady, for her part, was standing mesmerized, looking out over the sea of waving grass, at the men whose polished armor flashed like jewels in the mounting light of early morning.
“I don’t think I want this battle to happen,” she mused softly.
Prince Halbrinnon must have heard, for he turned her direction and sank down to one knee.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “This is my battle. I will fight it, and I will win it. Just remember to trust me, no matter what happens.”
She nodded bravely. “I already do.”