| Corleth paced the quarterdeck, his
face flushed with anger.
"It is for the best," said Luxor quietly. "You are too young."
And you are far too old, thought Corleth but did not say it. He stopped and glared at his grandfather.
"Only yesterday you were warning me not to be over-eager for adventure but you and Lord Blood have been up half the night, happy as larks, plotting this expedition! You still thirst for adventure, Grandfather. Yet you will not let Arin and I quench our equal thirst. Is that fair, Grandfather?" said Corleth, impassioned.
Luxor paused for a moment, thinking. The boy's words had truth.
"Your father would be furious," said the Moonprince, stalling.
"Father is furious already. He says that you and Lord Blood are behaving like a pair of headstrong children and would that he were sailing to Coromand in your place."
"I know. He said as much to me," said Luxor, sighing.
"In any case, I have already asked him."
"What did he say?" asked Luxor, taken by surprise.
"He said that I could go if I wished and you granted your permission."
"That was all?"
"No," said Corleth, hesitantly.
"What else? Tell me!"
Corleth looked embarrassed.
"He said that perhaps it would be better to have someone with a bit more sense accompany you on your journey."
The Moonprince laughed.
"He would say that! The wheel turns! Very well then, Corleth, you and Arin shall sail with us to Coromand. What say you, Lord Blood?"
Lord Blood turned from the rail where he had been watching provender being hauled up from the jetty.
"Eh?" he said, cupping his hand to his ear.
"What say you to Arin and Corleth joining us, Blood? shouted Luxor.
Lord Blood smiled.
"Try stopping 'em and we'll be here forever arguing, that's what I say," he shouted back.
Corleth grinned and then hugged the Moonprince.
"Thanks, Grandfather, many thanks! You'll not regret it, I promise. I shall go to tell Arin."
Corleth broke away and ran off.
"Don't forget to pack some kit!" shouted Luxor after him.
Corleth turned briefly.
"It's packed already - and stowed down below," he added before rushing off again.
It was late afternoon before the Cormorant was finally ready to sail. A small crowd had gathered on the riverbank and on the jetty. Prince Morkin and Princess Tarithel had come to say their farewells.
"May your quest go well, Father," said Morkin, "Return swiftly and safe!"
"I shall, my son, I shall," said Luxor.
Then Luxor moved his hands behind his neck, unclasping something, and drew forth the Moon Ring on its golden chain. Smiling, he pressed it into Prince Morkin's hand.
"This must be in your keeping now, Morkin. Guard Midnight well whilst I am gone!" said the Moonprince.
"I feared you might give me the Moon Ring, Father. Take it with you. I beg of you. You must travel through wild and troubled lands to reach Coromand and, likely as not, there will be times when you will be glad of it," said Morkin.
"And leave Midnight unguarded? I could never do that!" said Luxor.
"These are times of peace. What threat can there be to guard against? "Who knows? But ravenous wolves strike without warning."
"Have it as you will then, Father. I will guard Midnight well, be sure of that. Guard yourself well, Father!" said Prince Morkin.
Then, with fond embraces, Luxor, Corleth, Lord Blood and Arin, said their farewells to Morkin and Tarithel. As Morkin wrapped his arms around his son's shoulders, he whispered in his ear to take good care of himself and of his grandfather. Corleth smiled and nodded, then turned to join the others who were already boarding the Cormorant.
The gangway was hauled on board. At a shout from the captain, the mooring ropes were loosed and the great sail unfurled. The light breeze rippled over the sail, shaking it out like a curtain at first, then catching it tight and filling it. To the cheers of the crowd, the Cormorant swung slowly out into the stream. Then, as if it knew, the breeze stiffened and the Cormorant gathered speed. To Corleth, leaning over the rail of the quarterdeck, the cheers of the crowd grew thin and distant, the figures on the jetty dwindled to specks and the great Citadel of Xajorkith slid away, its white towers gleaming like snow in the afternoon sun, its bright banners flying in the gathering wind.
The Imilvir meandered lazily across the Plains of Corelay before turning south towards the Last Mountains. The ship's crew knew the river well and the Cormorant made all speed, sailing by moonlight and starlight as well as by sun. By dawn of the next day, they had reached the Castle of Corelay and by noon they had raced through the breach that the Imilvir carved through the Last Mountains into Erifel and the Blood March. It was the first time that Corleth and Arin had ever journeyed beyond Midnight and their eyes were lit with excitement as they watched the gentle plains of Erifel glide past.
Without pause, the Cormorant sped through the Witherlands. By the third day, they had reached Glimormir, a lake so broad that Corleth and Arin fancied they had come to the Great Ocean already. As they sailed away from the rivermouth, the shoreline became a dwindling thread on the horizon until there was no land to be seen at all. The eye wearied of gazing at water without end for hour upon hour and when, as dusk grew nigh, the Isle of Immiel rose up on the horizon before them, a shout of joy came from all alike, from captain to sail-monkey.
The wind fell away to a soft breeze and the Cormorant drifted slowly towards the distant island. As the sun drew down in the west scattering golden fire upon the lake and the sky darkened in the east. Corleth spied a white swan against the ink blue sky above Immiel, winging swiftly towards them. Gradually, the swan drew closer until it was circling above them. Then, suddenly, the wind sprang up again. The sails filled and the Cormorant leapt forward, flying across the water. Above them, the swan turned and flew eastwards, as though leading them to the island now gilded by the setting sun.
The sun was blood-red in the west as they rounded the western tip of Immiel, the white swan still ahead of them. Tall trees lined the shore and the waves lapped against gentle beaches but, presently, the shoreline grew craggier and steeper until towering cliffs loomed over them. The wind grew stronger too, lashing the waves against the dark rocks and hurling the Cormorant along. The slender ship pitched and shuddered as it crashed through the swell. Standing on the fo'csle, beside the prow, Corleth gripped the rail tightly and laughed as the spray splashed over him. At his side, Arin was white and silent and tight-knuckled but stood his place even though there seemed a greater turmoil in his belly than in the thrashing waters below.
At length after they rounded a headland, an inlet came in sight. The captain, fearing the weather might worsen, steered the Cormorant towards it but the swan had already turned and was at the inlet already. The Cormorant hurtled between the rocks and cliffs but no more than a hundred yards into the inlet the waters calmed and the wind dropped away. The ship slowed and slid smoothly through unruffled waters. Arin, for one, breathed a sign of relief and a little colour came back to his cheeks.
Soon, the inlet gave way to a broad bay, a natural harbour. The mouth of the bay was still flanked by rocks and tall cliffs but at the far shore a golden strand sloped gently into the water. Another ship was already moored there, its sail furled.
The swan they had followed all the way circled at the shoreline and landed on the still waters just off the beach. The light was failing as they neared the shore. As they drew closer, Corleth and Arin spotted figures moving towards them along the beach, bearing torches and brightly coloured lanterns. Then a herald's voice hailed them from the shore.
"Luxor the Moonprince, Prince of Midnight, my lord Galahar, Lord of Immiel, King of Glimormir, bids thee welcome to the Golden Isle!"
"The Moonprince bids thee to thank the Lord of Immiel most kindly for his welcome!" came the loud reply.
The Cormorant hove to and dropped anchor. Then seven small boats pushed out from the shore, each with a lantern at the prow, and came alongside the Cormorant. Rope ladders were slung out over the rail and, one by one, the occupants of the rowing boats climbed aboard. The first to step on deck was a tall, slender fey clad in white and silver and blue. A golden circlet studded with sapphires sat upon his golden hair. Luxor was there to greet him.
"I am Luxor the Moonprince. Welcome aboard the Cormorant, stranger."
"Stranger no more. Galahar the Calm, Lord of Immiel am I and for thy welcome, I thee thank, Moonprince."
Saying so, Galahar the Calm bowed deeply. Though he disliked too much ceremony, Luxor felt obliged to follow suit. Then he smiled warmly at Galahar and clasped him by the hand.
"Come, we'll spend no more time in introductions. The day grows old. Let us repair to the quarterdeck where food and drink aplenty are being laid out as we speak. This eve, you'll sup of the best fare that the abundance of Midnight can offer."
Corleth, watching, smiled to himself.
Grandfather must be hungry, he thought. Usually he strings out the introductions for ages.
"Well said, Luxor!" said Galahar, with a laugh in his voice. "To keep such matters brief often for the best it is. More than a little hungry am I also, I must confess. The Cormorant didst we expect a little sooner."
"Then news must spread swiftly in these parts, indeed!" said Luxor with some surprise, "Since we left Midnight, we have travelled fleet as the wind without a stop or break!"
"A white swan is the device upon the shield of Immiel," said Galahar, obliquely.