The Cormorant raced on towards Coromand. The winds were behind it and the weather was fair. Through the Eldmark into Weirdwood, then through a deep ravine gouged in the Long Mountains into Dawnwood, the Imilvir carried the swift ship at last to the Bay of Eregoth. For Luxor's small party, it was the first time they had set eyes upon open sea and they gazed upon it with wonder at such an endless expanse.
    For many leagues, they hugged the coast of the Fallows until, passing the shores of Roreon, they headed due south into the Grey Sea. League upon league, there was naught but empty ocean all around them. Then, at last, they sighted land again, coming to the easterly headlands of the Delve. Once more they hugged the coast, rounding the Isle of Storms without mishap. Then the wind changed, blustering in from the east, and on the far horizon dark clouds began to gather. Rather than head due south again directly for Coromand, the captain, fearing a storm, kept to the coast and they sailed westwards along the southern coast of the Delve through the Sea of Skulls.
Here, the storm from the east caught them. The waves grew tall and terrible, the wind tore at the sail. The captain did not dare to turn the ship lest it be overturned and the Cormorant flew along on the wings of the storm, deeper and deeper into the west. Then, in the Bay of Ulmor, the wind turned again, dragging them northwards towards the rocky coast.
    The sky darkened, thunder exploded all around them, lightning crackled into the tumultuous sea and rain lashed down upon them. As the rocky shore loomed closer and closer, the captain, in desperation, tried to turn the ship. Its timbers creaking hideously, the Cormorant strained westwards again, heaving to starboard as it came around. Suddenly a fiery bolt of lightning struck the mainmast, snapping it in two like a twig and the mast crashed down onto the foredeck, crushing two of the ship's crew.
    The raging storm drove the Cormorant relentlessly towards the shore, dashing the crippled ship against the rocks. As the Cormorant broke like a child's toy, crew and passengers alike leapt into the roiling sea. Some were sucked under by the fierce currents, some were smashed against the rocks but a few managed to struggle ashore.
    A sorry party gathered on the shoreline. Luxor lay unconscious, having dashed his head against the rocks as he tried to clamber ashore. Corleth and Arin had plucked him from the waves just before he would have been dragged under.
    Lord Blood had gained the shore too, together with three of the Moonprince's houseguard and four of the crew.
    "We must find some shelter, else we will all freeze to death. What is this place?" said Lord Blood, addressing no one in particular.
    "This is the Marish, sir," said one of the crew.
    "Accursed storm!" exclaimed Lord Blood, "It has borne us to the Wolfheart's domain!"
    One of the houseguard shouted, "Look, my lord!"
    All eyes turned to where the man was pointing. There, in the west against the reddening sky, they saw the silhouettes of dark warriors coming swiftly towards them over the brow of the hill, swords drawn.
    "Hell's teeth!" cried Lord Blood, "And we are near disarmed, our coats of mail cast aside, our shields lost. In sword alone must we put our trust. Gather round me. We will die afore our prince is taken!"
    Though sorely outnumbered and already weary from battle with the sea, the ten fought bravely, slaying near twice their number, but one by one they fell wounded or dying. Arin was struck on the head by a shield and fell to the ground, unconscious. Corleth was disarmed as the back of his hand was sliced by a sword and then felled by a heavy blow from behind. Lord Blood was the last to fall, a Dark Fey warrior plunging his sword through the old man's chest, piercing him through the heart.
    Two of the crew who were wounded were swiftly decapitated by the Dark Fey commander, who perceived they would be valueless, but Luxor, Corleth and Arin, who were clad in richer garments, he spared, guessing that these might bring a pretty ransom.
    So it was that Luxor the Moonprince, his grandson Corleth and Arin, now Lord Blood were brought to the Dark Citadel of Maranor and thrown into a cell. Presently, Boroth himself came to the cell to assay his new possessions. Luxor was dragged to his feet by the guards.
"Well, what have we here, then?" said the Wolfheart, "An old man and two boys! Still, by their dress I would venture they have some small nobility, at least."
    Luxor, enraged, shook himself free of the two guards who held him.
"I am Luxor the Moonprince, Prince of Midnight! Whomsoever you may be, you will set us free forthwith - if you value your life!" cried Luxor.
    The Dark Fey guards moved to strike Luxor down but Boroth, smiling now, raised a hand to stay them.
    "Charmed, I am sure!" said Boroth, bowing his head, "How pleased I am to meet thee, Luxor, Prince of Midnight! Of thee, many tales have I heard. I prithee, allow me to introduce myself. I am Boroth, High King of the Marish! I fancy thou wilt fetch a handsome price."
    "And I fancy that you will find a mighty army hammering at your gates if you dare to hold me to ransom!" said the Moonprince.
    "I doubt that. There is little point in rescuing a corpse. And who, pray, might these two pretty boys be?" said Boroth, still smiling with considerable charm.
    "They are two servants of mine. Release them, at least. They will fetch you no ransom," said Luxor.
    "And if I do, what do I gain?" asked Boroth.
    "I will give you my mark whereby my son will know that I still live, but first I will see them set free and their swords returned," said Luxor.
    "Very well," said Boroth, "So be it. Thou art wise, Moonprince, to ease my path. Come, let us to the gates of Maranor and thou shalt see thy servants set free."
    It was midnight when Corleth and Arin were released at the great gate. As they disappeared into the darkness, Luxor's eyes were filled with tears. He know that they were in great peril, that Boroth could, at a whim, send warriors after them and have them slaughtered but he knew in his heart that this was their best chance. Boroth had nothing to gain by their deaths and, even if they were to be hunted, Corleth and Arin were young and strong and could well escape.
    Corleth, however, was not about to abandon his grandfather and Arin was with him in this. Once they were safely out of sight, the boys turned back towards the Dark Citadel, circling round it looking for a way back in. Thus it was that the warriors Boroth sent after them along the road to the river could find no sign of them. After hours of stumbling through the darkness, Arin suddenly disappeared from sight. By chance, he had fallen into a stairway hidden by undergrowth that led to an underground passage. He called up to Corleth and Corleth followed him. Feeling their way blindly along the dark passageway, they finally emerged in what must have been an old well, deep in the bowels of the Dark Citadel.
    As they climbed out of the well into a stone flagged room, Corleth whispered, "Fear not, Grandfather, we will set you free!"
    "And any other ill-fated hostage that we might find!" added Arin.
    A swift-winged raven bore Boroth's ransom note to Corelay. It was a simple message: five chestfuls of gold to be sent to Maranor and Luxor would be returned unharmed. If the gold did not reach Maranor within twelve moons, Luxor's head alone would be returned. To leave no doubt, Luxor's mark was set upon the parchment.
    Prince Morkin gazed at his father's signature. There was no doubt it was his, but at the end there was an extra flourish, an extra branch on the last stroke. For a while, it puzzled him and then he realized what it was meant to be. The last stroke was a snake's tongue. Luxor had added a message to his mark, Place no trust in what this letter says. How the tables had turned since the Icemark! Now it was he who must free his father!
    Although he could muster the mightiest of armies, he dared not rouse Midnight lest this Wolfheart hear of it and slay Luxor. Some stealth must be used and what help they could gather within the Blood March itself. If an army were to rescue Luxor, it could not be seen to come from Midnight. With a handful of warriors, Prince Morkin and Araleth the White, Lord of Dreams set forth for the Castle of Corelay and thence to the Blood March.
    When the prince drew within sight of the last Mountains, at last he placed the Moonring upon his finger, lifted his fist to the sky and cried out, "For the Moonprince, for Midnight and the Free!
    Boroth the Wolfheart, you shall pay for this with your life!" and the air trembled. Far, far, away, already deep within the Blood March on his way to the Crimson Mountains, Rorthron heard the faint whisper thrown forth by the Moonring. Suddenly, all grew clear to him as he bent his mind towards Luxor's plight. Anderlane of the Arakai, the unexpected gift, of course! Already, away in the Last Northing, there could be help at hand from the Moonprince's unsuspected kin. In his wildest dreams, Boroth would never link the two. Now he knew why he had hurried here. Rorthorn looked into the east towards the long Mountains and beyond them Rilleon and the Last Northing, then hurried on. The War of the Blood March was about to begin.

Chapter Four Contents Chapter One