For the past three days, and most of the intervening nights, John had ridden at the front of the party, ostensibly in the role of guide to the princess and her guards through the land. In reality, he had only taken this place at the head of the party to ensure that he could ride in comparative solitude while still remaining close by the Princess.
On the morning of the fourth day, the walls of Carribeasa rose on the horizon as John reached the crest of the hill he had driven his mount to ascend. Here he paused, waiting for the Gairbairns to make up the distance which separated him from them. When they had, he pointed to the walls. “The city of Carribeasa lies yonder, in our path.”
“Do you mean to stop there for provisions and rest?”
“We may. We are not above ten miles distant from it where we stand now. We will tarry there for the remainder of the day, if you wish. For my part, I would prefer to push on and continue toward the river.”
“Why? Do you fear what you may find in the city?” asked the Princess, who remained conscious of the fact that John had fallen out of favor with the king, and had probably been proclaimed an enemy of the state, since he had already been imprisoned. Now, loosening her hold on the restraining her mount, she looked out across the land toward the city once more. When a bright flash caught her eye, she exclaimed “Escape is denied to us. There is already danger enough surrounding the walls of that city. Do you not see the great mass of men camped close to it?”
“Nevertheless, we must pass close by, for the city controls the straightest path to the great river Quaygon, which separates this land from yours, and we must reach as soon as we can.”
Without another word, John started his mount in motion once more, driving it straight down the hill and across the stream beside it at an unusually rapid pace. The Princess and her guards followed an instant later, though they did not press their steeds as hard as John had. They traveled over this stretch of land much as they had traversed the others; John traveling several yards ahead of the Gairbairns, who followed with no intention of rejoining him. They traveled in as straight a line as they could manage. This was not hard, as there were few natural barriers, and these slowed them but little. None of them spoke a word while in motion; Recalling their largely silent passage across the desert of the Princess’ homeland, John was forced to resist the urge to speak with her at greater length, fearful that she only begin to like him less if he pressed himself upon her anymore than he had already done.
They traveled in the manner described for no less than two hours. By that time, they were quite close to the city and the host surrounding it. They were near enough, in fact, that they passed within twenty feet of a sentinel, one of many who had been stationed for want of anything more important to do. Looking past him, John spotted two banners flapping in the small breeze; one showed a yellow lion on a red field, standing on its four legs and roaring for all the world to see. The other was one of the several banners, displaying Valun’s sword and anvil image, which had been made many years ago in Ronaiera according to Valun’s dictated design.
“Richard! And it seems Valun is here as well!” said John to himself when he saw what the banners displayed. “I shall not last long if I stray anywhere near the city.” As he turned away, he saw, at the last moment, that the sentinel had turned to run back toward the camp. “Worse and worse! Richard will be sending men after me before the hour is out!” Turning his mount, John rode hard back over the ridge behind to the Gairbairns who were following him. “There is no safety for us here! The enemy has surrounded this city as well! Come!” Having said this, John rode off in a direction which would allow them to give a wide berth to the city and avoid the army altogether.
By the time the bank of the great river came in sight, John had long since ceased to worry about the prospect of any pursuit. They had been riding for the past hour by the time they reached the place. The minute he reached the edge of the bank, John dismounted, turned his camel loose to find what fodder it could, and seated himself beside the river to wait for the Princess.
She was not long in coming, and when she did, she promptly snapped “Now that we have come here, what do you intend to do next? The great river is too powerful for any beast to cross.”
“I know that. I intend to wait.”
“For what? The soldiers besieging the city to catch up with us here?”
“You will see soon, if it comes when it is expected.”
They had been waiting for an hour more before a large boat shaped like a huge canoe and propelled by as many as forty rowers hove into view. When it was directly in front of the shore where John and the Gairbairns were sitting, the man standing in the front called out “Back water! Hold her here!” Turning to the party on shore, he called out “Here at last, are you? Took your time about it! I’ve had these men rowing up and down this bank for weeks, with never even a piece of flotsam or jetsam to relieve us!”
“You know well enough, man,” replied John, who was now on his feet once more “That princes have every right to take their own time, and many other peoples’ in doing what they like! Now stand by to take your passengers!”
There was no further speech for several minutes, while the boat moved closer to the shore to allow boarding, and the party on shore strode deliberately across the plank which was provided for the purpose. Near the back of the boat, there was a small cabin, barely wide enough for one person, which the Princess promptly commandeered for her own use. Ignoring this, John walked forward to speak with the captain of the boat.
“How long will it take you to cross the river?”
“Considering all the practice the men put in, we should be on our home shore within two days. I’ve had them pulling here and back every week since I received your message. What held you back?”
“Do not speak so to your Prince! Get them started now!” Having thus silenced the man, John turned and strode back down the aisle between the rowers toward the cabin, ignoring the glares of the rowers, who were nearly all unhappy at having been forced to row across the great river twice every week for three months on his account.
Throughout the two days that were required for the boat to cross the river, the silence hung over it like a dark cloud. The Princess, who was understandably upset at the way events had turned out since her arrival in Corridane, refused to leave the cabin, and would not speak to John or the captain. The captain, whose only wish was to get the boat back home as quickly as possible, had nothing to say to his passengers in any case. John, who had infuriated both of them, sat stoically between the two.
The moment the boat touched the bank of the land of Ronaiera, John leapt out, itching to turn and ride away as quickly as could be managed. The instant everything had been unloaded, he mounted the nearest steed, crying “Follow me to the castle of Varaskel! There we shall live in safety and peace for all the days of our lives!”