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A ship swept into the harbor.
Black and dangerous, it moved like a dark hunter bearing down on its prey. Three tall masts, majestic under full sail, propelled the warship into the harbor of a great city as other ships gave way. Although she looked like a great pirate vessel from the distant Sunset Islands, her foremast flew the Royal Ensign, and all who saw the ship knew that the King's brother was returning home.
High aloft that ship, a young man worked quickly, reefing the mizzen topsail. Roo paused a moment as he tied the final reef point, and looked across the harbor at the City of Krondor.
The Prince's city spread out along the docks, rose on hills to the south, and spread out of sight to the north. The panorama was impressive as the ship sped in from the sea. The young man—eighteen years of age at the next Midsummer's festival—had thought on numerous occasions over the past year and more that he would never see the city again. Yet here he was, finishing up his watch atop the mizzen mast of the Freeport Ranger, a ship under the command of Admiral Nicholas, brother to the King of the Kingdom of the Isles and uncle to the Prince of Krondor.
Krondor was the second most important city in the Kingdom of the Isles, the capital of the Western Realm and seat of power for the Prince of Krondor, heir to the throne of the Isles. Roo could see the multitude of small buildings scattered across the hills surrounding the harbor, the vista dominated by the Prince's palace, which sat atop a steep hill hard against the water. The majesty of the palace was in stark contrast to the rude buildings that lined the waterfront close by, warehouses and chandlers' shops, sail- and rope-makers, carpenters and sailor's inns. Second only to the Poor Quarter as a haven for thugs and thieves, the waterfront was thrown by the proximity of the palace into an even more seedy aspect.
Yet Roo was pleased to see Krondor, for now he was a free man. He glanced one last time at his work, ensuring that the sail was properly reefed, and moved quickly along the footrope with a sure balance learned while crossing treacherous seas for nearly two years.
Roo considered the oddity of facing his third spring in a row without a winter. The topsy-turvy seasons of the land on the other side of the world had contrived to provide Roo and his boyhood friend, Erik, with such a situation, and Roo found the notion both amusing and oddly disquieting.
He shinnied down a sheet, reaching the top of the mizzenmast ratline. Roo didn't particularly like top work, but as one of the smaller and more nimble men in the crew, he was often told to go aloft and unfurl or reef the royals and topgallants. He scampered down the ratline and landed lightly on the deck.
Erik von Darkmoor, Roo's only friend as a boy, finished his task of tying off a yard brace to a cleat, then hurried to the rail as they sped past other ships in the harbor. A full two heads taller and twice the bulk of his friend, Erik made with Roo as unlikely a pair as any two boys could have been. While Erik was stronger than any boy in their hometown of Ravensburg, Roo was among the smallest. While Erik would never be called handsome, he wore an open and friendly expression that others found likable; Roo had no illusions about his own appearance. He was homely by any standards, with a pinched face, eyes that were narrowed and darting around as if constantly looking for threats, and a nearly permanent expression that could only be called furtive. But on those rare occasions when he smiled, or laughed, a warmth was revealed that made him far from unattractive. It was that roguish humor and willingness to brave trouble that had attracted Erik to Roo when they were children.
Erik pointed and Roo nodded at those ships moving away from their own as the Freeport Ranger was given right of way to the royal docks below the palace. One of the older sailors laughed and Roo turned to ask, "What?"
"Prince Nicky's going to irritate the Harbormaster again." Erik, his hair almost bleached white by the sun, looked at the sailor, who had blue eyes that stood out in stark contrast to his sunburned face. "What do you mean?"
The sailor pointed. "There's the Harbormaster's launch." Roo looked to where the man pointed. "He's not slowing to pick up a pilot!"
The sailor laughed. "The Admiral is his teacher's student. Old Admiral Trask used to do the same thing, but he'd at least allow the pilot up on deck so he could personally irritate him by refusing to take a tow into the dock. Admiral Nicky's the King's brother, so he doesn't even bother with that formality."
Roo and Erik glanced upward and saw that old sailors were standing by waiting to reef in the last sails on the Admiral's command. Roo then looked to the poop deck and saw Nicholas, formerly Prince of Krondor and presently Admiral of the King's Fleet in the West, give the signal. Instantly the old hands pulled up the heavy canvas and tied off. Within seconds Roo and the others on the deck could feel the ship's speed begin to fall off as they neared the royal docks located below the royal palace of the Prince.
The Ranger's motion continued to drop off, but to Roo it felt as if they were still moving into the docks too fast. The old sailor spoke as if reading his mind.Rise of a Merchant Prince. Copyright © by Raymond Feist. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Rise of a Merchant Prince by Raymond E. Feist
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