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The Armada sets sail

Though the wild expanse of the sea thrilled Itzak, it was the sky; unfettered by walls, trees, roofs or mountain tops which struck him dumb. Momentarily at least. Awe and delight beamed out from him, plunging from the battlement, swooping away from the city along the rugged coast. Rufus, standing alongside him, watched Itzak's face with curiosity as the boy's imagination took flight. The old warrior shared the panoramic view, but where Rufus squinted at rainclouds over the distant peaks; Itzak witnessed the Kingdom of the sky laying siege to the forested flanks of titanic beasts with a solemn armada of floating castles.   The scarlet blink of a butterfly careening past napped Itzak's attention back to the white stones of the battlements and the hustle of the harbour below. Their attendant spoke in Rubian to Itzak's father and gestured at the squadron of longships beginning to round the harbour wall. Fishing boats darted out of their path to the shelter of the wall like small fry fleeing a hungry eel. Red pennants caught lazily at the breeze atop the masts. Sails lolled as the Rubian longships made their way under oars into the harbour. A procession of twelve of the ships passed under the walls beneath the Tawma Line party. Itzak could see the shining helms of the Rubian officers and the gleaming arms of the oarsmen below.   Lord Denniel clapped his arm about Itzak's shoulder and gave the sort of squeeze Itzak supposed was intended to offer reassurance; perhaps to confer some of his abundant confidence and strength, rather than to merely bruise his arms.   "Tomorrow we shall ride the waves on one of those fine vessels. Just as our horses have borne us to Rubia and the edge of the ocean, so these ships shall carry us on to Moonstone and to it's Queen.   Wondering if the words were spoken solely for his benefit–a mask of courage–Itzak squinted up at his father and searched for any sign of doubt. There was nothing about Lord Denniel but an air effortless confidence and unshakeable certainty. Itzak actually felt something of the surety pass to him in the warmth of his father's embrace, but he immediately felt ashamed at his enjoyment of being so treated and wriggled free with averted eyes and a non-committal grunt.   The party from the Tawma Line, guided by their Rubian attendant, to a slow stroll along the fortified walkways and battlements of the harbour. Each tower and lookout post offering up yet another point of interest within the City's walls and another spectacular view of the coastline. By late afternoon the sky was, for the most part, clear and a steady breeze; a little chilled, blew from the East. The party repeated the words of their hosts amongst themselves, speaking of the favourable conditions they would sail under and how their mission was surely blessed by God.   The next morning it seemed to Itzak as though God's blessing may have passed them over. The grey sky sucked the cheer from the party and the light breeze had strengthened. Wrapped in his cloak by the quayside, Itzak frowned at Rufus, who frowned right back as they attempted to watch the Rubian servants load the longships and simultaneously keeping out of their way. The Lord's Quay was crammed with lines of panting attendants who passed sacks and casks between them to a steady, silent rhythm. The dozen Rubian longships, though splendid to the eyes of a twelve-year-old who had never before seen the ocean, were quite dwarfed by the royal flagship of Cytreen. Itzak had attempted to number the three tiers of portholes and wondered at how such a massive structure might remain afloat, before becoming distracted by the activity among the Cytreen soldiers. As the white-robed princes had made their way from the citadel down onto the quay, the brightly-armoured soldiers had performed such precise manoeuvres as they changed formation; it seemed to Itzak that he was witness to some elaborate dance and he had to clamp his hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter.   There was no doubt as to which ship would be leading the voyage from Rubia to Moonstone and while the princes ascended the gangplank at a dignified pace, the flagship swarmed with hurried sailors making ready to embark.   Through the throng of Cytreen soldiers, Rubian attendants and assorted foreign dignitaries that swamped the Lord's Quay: Under the arch leading to the common quayside, Itzak suddenly spotted a colourfully dressed figure.   "Kezia!" he gasped and darted away from Rufus and snaked through the crowd.   The Rubian guards manning the entrance eyed Itzak with suspicion as he burst forth between them and clasped the hands of the minstrel girl. Itzak's mind flailed around for a place to begin while the words queued up on his tongue and his questions tripped over his lips. Kezia laughed at the donkey's bray that erupted from him and span him around in a circle as Itzaks cheeks burned with embarrassment. He smiled back at her despite himself. The girl gave a graceful wave, gesturing to the quayside where Itzak could see Daria and Sullei already aboard a Rubian longship. Sullei pulled a face and they both waved before performing a quick mime that involved swimming and drowning. Itzak laughed with pleasure and his heart lifted.   "You're sailing for Moonstone too?"   Kezia nodded and grinned,   "Perhaps your father lets you sail with us." She cocked her head and winked.   To travel with the minstrel company would be wonderful, Itzak thought. He imagined sitting next to Kezia and Sullei and listening to the music and the tales of the deep ocean kingdoms as they flew across the waves together. What was slightly more difficult to imagine however, was his father agreeing to such an arrangement. He could picture Rufus frowning in disapproval, shaking his head slowly in that annoying way he had. Suddenly Itzak no longer had to picture it, for the grizzled warrior had stepped between him and Kezia and was already wearing his usual scowl. Itzak managed to squeeze the question in before Rufus asked it;   "Where d'you think you're off to young man?" he aped and felt the warm reward of Kezia's laugh as she twirled away along the quayside.

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